When Tony Paladino (B.S. ’08) first visited Cornerstone University, he knew it was a place he would call home.
“I remember visiting Cornerstone for the first time and being overwhelmed by the amount of compassion that they had for me, feeling so encouraged about what my life could look like as a student,” Tony said.
As a student with some learning challenges, the learning resource center helped Tony to achieve his goals as an environmental biology student.
Today, Tony is working and living in Yosemite National Park in El Portal, Calif., with his wife, Leslie and two children. Working as a concessions management specialist for Yosemite National Park, Tony helps the National Park Service manage and negotiate concessions contracts to ensure that they are treating park visitors well.
“National Park Service rangers aren’t really that interested in being gas station attendants, bellhops at hotels or running restaurants, but those are all necessary services at some of these national parks,” Tony said. “The National Park Service is able to offer those services through concession contracts.”
Tony started working in concessions management at Fort Sumter National Monument and has been managing assets at Yosemite for the last year.
“I’m managing a business contract,” shared Tony, “but there is still the environmental stewardship piece that comes from the Genesis 1 mandate to Adam and Eve—to be stewards of creation.”
But the path to this career wasn’t always clear for Tony.
“When I was at Cornerstone, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” Tony shared. “I was an older student, and I graduated in 2008 when I was 31. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be involved in the business side of the national parks, but the Lord opened those doors for me.”
Living and working in Yosemite National Park not only allows Tony and his family the opportunity to enjoy God’s creation, but it also provides opportunities to be salt and light.
“I hope people who encounter me encounter the love of Christ—His kindness which can lead to repentance, His compassion for them—and that through me they can experience some level of healing in their lives,” Tony said. “I’ve had two conversations in the last three days with men who are going through divorces. I want to use the platform He’s given me to shine the light in dark places and let them experience the love of Christ through me.
“I think Christians get a bad rep when it comes to creation. Letting them see that I’m a born-again believer who thinks that stewardship is really important and that creation isn’t just a resource to exploit—that’s really refreshing.”
The relationships that Tony and his family are building outside of his work are a part of spreading Christ’s love as well.
“My wife and I will be starting a Bible study up here in the fall,” Tony shared. “We could have done that right when we got here, but we really wanted to spend our first year just letting the community get to know us and letting us get to know them. Relationships are important.”
As for the changes at Cornerstone, Tony is excited to see the growth of STEM programs and the addition of a new building to campus.
“I’m incredibly appreciative of my time at Cornerstone,” Tony said. “I’ll be forever grateful for my time there. Professors like Rob Keys, Gator and Dr. Fryling are just wonderful people who I love to this day. Thank you for your continued ministry to undergrad students, especially the ones that don’t fit so nicely into boxes. I was not a 18- or 19-year-old student, but somehow they made it work for me too. I’m just very thankful to Cornerstone, and I look forward to when I can come back, visit and see all the changes that have been made over the last 10 years.”
For current students looking to work in the national parks someday, Tony recommends applying to the Pathways Program.
“Cornerstone students could be going to seasonal positions at any one of the over 400 national parks around the country through the Pathways Program,” Tony said.
Tony also advises current students to be willing to follow God’s plans.
“The Lord expressed a lot of creativity in creation,” Tony said. “We see that and love that about what He’s made. We see that and love that in the Word of God. But, sometimes we’re a little less comfortable with that in our own lives. When we’re children of God, we give license to Him to use us how He wants. He is sovereign over all creation—including us and our careers.”