Wildlife Management ‘04
Wildlife Refuge Manager, Erie National Wildlife Refuge - US Fish and Wildlife Service
Vicki graduated from SENR in 2004 after studying Wildlife Management. During her time in SENR, she was the President of the Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society, founded the Student Leadership Forum, and interned with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. After graduation, Vicki started working right away with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and is now the Wildlife Refuge Manager at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge.
Read the full interview with Vicki:
A Glance at Vicki’s Current Work
I am currently the Wildlife Refuge Manager at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge within the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and I’m based in northwest Pennsylvania. There is absolutely no typical day at a national wildlife refuge because things come up all the time. However, a typical day mostly consists of supervising four permanent employees and upwards of 12 seasonal employees in directing habitat management on the refuge. It also includes working with partners and organizations to further the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
My job largely focuses on habitat management. For example, I’ll deal with invasive species treatment. We actually just had a project last week where we rented goats to eat multiflora roses, which is an invasive species in the forested area. We work with nonprofit and state organizations within and outside of the community as best we can for environmental education and interpretation. Sometimes my days consist of programs. Other days I’m out in the field planting trees. There are a wide variety of activities that I’ll be working on every day.
What is the most rewarding part of your current job?
The most rewarding part of my job is probably bringing in interns each year and seeing the development that they make each summer. The interns are able to bring in their classroom experience to the field, put it into practice and leave better than they came. It’s really cool to be able to see that lightbulb turn on for them.
What were you involved in during college?
I was involved in the Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society for about the entire time I was there, and I was actually President for some of that timeframe. I was a member of the Forestry Forum, Outdoor Recreation and Parks Association, and the TerrAqua Club. I also founded and was Chairman of the Student Leadership Forum in 2002, which would coordinate events between student organizations in the whole School of Environment and Natural Resources. Additionally, I was a student advisor for Natural Resources Eco-Explorers and served as a representative for the Agricultural & Natural Resources Council. I was very active in student organizations and never had a free moment during my undergraduate years.
In terms of internships, I interned with the USFWS as a Biological Intern during my junior year. I was stationed in a wildlife refuge in northwest Colorado, and I worked doing migratory bird and waterfowl surveys. I was also introduced to heavy equipment and wildland fires that summer.
That experience then led me to apply for a co-op program with the USFWS (it’s currently called the Pathways program), where I would go to school and then work at different locations through the USFWS in the summers. Through the program, I got to work in North Dakota and Montana. From there, I received a permanent position in North Dakota and have been moving around as a regular employee with them since then.
What advice would you give to someone who is still in college and hoping to do what you do?
Get any experience that you can while you're still in college, whether that be volunteering or actually going to work at a location. All paid and volunteer experience count the same on your resume. I often see students not taking opportunities because they have to pay the bills or have other obstacles, but not taking those experiences hurts you in the long run. This is a competitive field to be in and you need to have experience to compete in this field.
Start anywhere. Don’t feel afraid to take a lower position. The only way to get a higher position is to keep working hard. As an employer, if I see someone who has a strong work ethic and good attitude and then someone who knows how to do the job, I will choose the person with the strong work ethic and good attitude every time.
For those interested in government, I think it’s important to understand the difference between government resumes and private sector resumes. As an employer, I’ve seen many applicants that don’t capture that difference when applying. Government resumes are often several pages instead of a standard one-page resume. For resources, I recommend looking at examples on Indeed and reaching out to your Career Advisor.
What experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?
It would have to be the internship/volunteer position I did while I attended OSU with the USFWS in Colorado. During that experience, I had the opportunity to work under Jerry Rodriguez, who inspired me by seeing how passionate he was to protect wildlife and provided me an opportunity to grow and learn so much in one summer. He was instrumental in getting my heavy equipment certification and my wildland fire card, and he continues to be a mentor for me today. That experience also allowed me to learn about the organization and how I could make a difference. I had originally thought I wanted to be a Pheasants Forever game biologist but taking that experience led me to realize that I wanted to work with an agency that allowed me to go anywhere in the country and always prioritized wildlife. After this realization, I decided I wanted to permanently work with the USFWS.
What was a challenge you faced in your professional development and how did you overcome it?
It was a challenge for me, as a woman, to work in different parts of the country and in male-dominated workplaces where I had to deal with preconceived notions and work extra hard to gain the respect of my colleagues. There were instances where it was hard for my coworkers to realize that I deserved to be there just as much as they did. I felt like I had to prove that I was worthy enough to be working there. The situation was difficult but I would cope by talking with my mentor, Jerry Rodriguez, who is a Hispanic man, and had to deal with those preconceived notions as well. I would also try to keep a positive attitude. Then when I left that workplace, I felt validated because it was stated how good I did during my time there and my colleagues talked about how they would miss me.
What did you do immediately post-graduation?
I was lucky enough to have a full-time position offered to me through the Pathways program. Therefore, I promptly drove to Montana to start my position. I always thought I was going to go to graduate school, but when I was offered a permanent full-time position with the government before graduation, I decided to take that path instead of attending graduate school and facing uncertainty in terms of having a permanent position in the future. I also spoke with my mentor, Jerry Rodriguez, about whether I should attend graduate school or take the position and ultimately realized that I wanted a permanent full-time position with the government and wouldn’t turn down the opportunity.
What was most important to you in your job search?
When I’m looking for job opportunities, I’m pretty open to new possibilities and areas. For instance, I moved from North Dakota to south Texas without every visiting the state. My decisions also mostly depend on the supervisors and who they are. I think it’s important to look at the supervisors and coworkers that you’d be working with because they can make or break an opportunity. I will always make a phone call and talk to somebody onsite before putting in an application just to have a conversation and introduce myself and my interests. I recommend asking thoughtful questions about the place and see if there are contacts for that position that you can reach out to. I have only looked for positions within the same agency, but these are items that can be done when applying for any job.
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Post created September 2021