Alumni Career Spotlight: Gwen Kolb

Gwen Kolb    
Natural Resource Management ‘01 
State Coordinator, New Mexico Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

Gwen in a white shirt and white hat with mountains and nature in backgroundGwen graduated from SENR in 2001 after majoring in Natural Resource Management. During her time in SENR, she was involved in the student chapter of The Wildlife Society and spent several summers interning for the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS). After graduation, Gwen started working for the USFWS and is now the State Coordinator for New Mexico Partners for Fish and Wildlife, a program within the USFWS.   

Read the full interview with Gwen:  

A Glance at Gwen’s Current Work   

I am currently the state coordinator in the USFWS’s program, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, in Albuquerque, NM. The program I work in is the only one in the Department of Interior that works strictly with private landowners. A typical day for me could be anything. I could be in another part of the states, sitting at my desk, or talking to people on the phone. It’s a constant, moving challenge and I haven’t done anything else for the last 23 years. It’s a very versatile and busy job based on the changing needs of landowners, which is the way I like it. In terms of travel, I’ve been able to see places in New Mexico that most people haven’t because it’s land privately owned that isn’t seen by the public. It was also like that when I was stationed in Illinois for 14 years before relocating to New Mexico. 

What is the most rewarding part of your current job?  

The constant variety is a part of what makes my job rewarding. However, a large part of it is being able to work with private landowners and what they do on their land, as well as how excited they are about what happens when they make certain changes. I’m a Restoration Biologist now and study wildlife, and when these folks see what their land can do and how certain species have returned to their property after being absent for years, it is very rewarding to have been able to help them with that. These landowners are the most rewarding part of my job.       

Professional Development

What were you involved in during college?Gwen wearing a brown jacket and white hat holding a small turtle next to a white truck in nature 

I got involved with anything that had to do with the outdoors. I was involved with the student chapter of The Wildlife Society and was the Treasurer at one point. I also interned with the USFWS the whole time I was at Ohio State. If it wasn’t for Dr. Bob Gates, I wouldn’t have known that the USFWS existed, because the opportunities for people of color aren’t as widely spread. I am a Black woman and I was a non-traditional student at Ohio State because I was in my forties when I started classes there. I didn’t even know that opportunity existed or if I even qualified for anything like that. Dr. Gates opened up these opportunities to me and if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am now.  

What advice would you give to someone who is still in college and hoping to do what you do?    

When you get into Natural Resources, Wildlife and related fields, people often think it’s all about animals and landscapes, but I recommend taking social science courses and learning how to interact with people because our work now is all about people. Yes, you still work on science, but you need to be able to take your science and explain it to others if you want others to work with you to get the issue addressed. You need interpersonal and public speaking skills, so don’t miss the opportunity to take courses that teach those skills in college.  

Additionally, any young person coming into any government job should find a mentor so they know what to look for. It’s confusing because it’s not like other sectors -- there are a lot of bells and whistles you have to look for, and most people don’t know how to look for them. This is especially important if you’re a person of color because those in charge of hiring will look for specific bells and whistles and as a person of color I didn’t think much of those bells and whistles. This is where you need someone to guide you and advocate for you. 

Gwen in a red shirt and jeans standing next to a friend in front of signs in natureWhat experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?    

I really am grateful to Dr. Bob Gates because without him, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I first met him when he was assigned as my advisor, and then he turned into a mentor and friend. He was the one who knew about the USFWS internship. Once he saw my resume, he told me to go and talk with them, and I was pretty much hired on the spot even though I had just started at Ohio State. After that, I did my internships with them every summer, and they ended up hiring me just before I graduated. 

What was a challenge you faced in your professional development and how did you overcome it?  

The challenge for me was deciding which way to go. I was a nontraditional student, and the opportunity to pursue a Bachelor degree at OSU presented itself. Going back to school when you have a mortgage and car payments to deal with while working 2-3 other jobs was challenging. It was also a challenge to keep up with the younger students, but I did my best to hold my own. However, once the USFWS took me under their wing, they took care of everything. They kept me on track on the courses I needed to take and helped me finish my degree. Between them and Dr. Bob Gates, they helped me with my challenges in college.  

Gwen wearing a dark blue vest standing inside a hollow tree in nature

On Diversity in the Workplace 

I would love to come to college to talk to students of color, because this is an uphill battle due to the way the hiring process is set up. I’m on a couple of committees right now, including the regional priorities for my region on the diversity issue. I’m a diversity change agent for the Department of Interior, and I’m on hiring panels. Within those, I’ve been working to make the hiring process more equitable. I spend most of my days fighting that battle because when I retire, I don’t want to be the last person of color in this position. I am the first Black woman State coordinator in this program. I am the only Black woman they’ve had in this position for this program, which started in 1987. The USFWS has been around since 1903, and the representation of people of color is well below the national average. In fact, my team in New Mexico are all people of color, making us the only brown group in the US, and I’d like to see similarly strong representation of people of color become a reality. The demographics of this Nation is changing and it will need to be all hands on deck if we are to face the challenges ahead. I’m working on making some changes, and I will continue fighting hard to make a difference.    

Post-Graduation

What did you do immediately post-graduation?

I immediately went to work at USFWS. They offered me a position in March before I graduated that June, and since I spent 2-3 summers with them, I knew I could do the work. I took about a week off after graduation and then moved to Illinois because they had a position for me there. I was working in Illinois for 14 years in Region 3, which I was the state coordinator for the last six years, and then relocated to New Mexico to be the state coordinator there.

Gwen in USFWS apparel holding box turtles in natureGwen’s thoughts on graduate school:

I took a few graduate courses with Dr. Bob Gates, but due to the fact that I was going to graduate with my Bachelor degree in my forties, I wanted to start working and contributing. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do and get my Bachelor degree so I wanted to start working on it, which worked out well since back in that day, the US Fish and Wildlife Services accepted Associate and Bachelor degrees plus I had a lot of experience. I have no regrets about not pursuing a graduate degree and choosing the US Fish and Wildlife Service as my permanent workplace (other than their hiring practices but I’m working on those). 

 

____________________________________  

How to connect with Gwen:   

505-761-4711 

gwen_kolb@fws.gov  

____________________________________  

Post created July 2021