Twelve AGNR students explored career opportunities at the second-annual Natural Resources Career Symposium, a two-day event organized by the National Fish and Wildlife Service in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
The symposium, which was held at the National Conservation Training Center from March 29-April 1, introduced more than 80 participants to careers in natural resource conservation and emphasized the value of working for the National Fish and Wildlife service.
The first day of the symposium, March 30, featured a variety of speakers and panel discussions. A crowd favorite was Mamie Parker, the associate director of the National Fish and Wildlife Service, who participants praised as a “great motivational speaker.” Participants also enjoyed a presentation about forensic wildlife analysis and had a question and answer session with lab scientists via video conference.
The lectures were followed by resume and career workshops where participants learned tips and tricks for perfecting an application for federal government jobs.
On the second day, March 31, Maryland students toured the Conservation Fund Fresh Water Institute and learned about aquaculture. When they returned to the training center in the afternoon, participants enjoyed field activities like identifying birds, trees, and wildflowers. Participants concluded the end of the weekend with a celebratory bonfire.
Dr. Leon Slaughter, the associate dean of academic programs, accompanied the students on the trip.
He said that the access to FWS administrators and professionals, as well as hands-on activities, ensured that the symposium would be a worthwhile experience.
“I think it’s successful because it engages the students,” Dr. Slaughter said of the symposium. “It really gives [students] the opportunity to see what it’s like to be a professional.”
Freshman environmental science and policy major Sophie Huget said that her favorite part of the symposium was the atmosphere.
“Immediately we were a part of this small community,” she said.
She added that the community aspect of the symposium helped her feel more confident about future job opportunities.
“Especially coming from UMD, they put a lot of effort into making us feel at home,” Huget said. “It gives [you] a lot more confidence that you can have a career. It’s really just a nurturing environment.”
For senior ENSP major Sam Preer, interacting with professionals in fish and wildlife careers was a unique experience.
"I really want to work in fish and wildlife, at a wildlife refuge, so being able to meet people that are following a similar career path was really neat."
Senior ENSP major Megan Hepner said that the most valuable part of the weekend was the chance to have face-to-face conversations with potential employers.
“It shows initiative,” Hepner said. “You’re getting your name out there, you’re actually trying, and you’re making connections.”
Preer got a chance to meet fish and wildlife police officers, or game wardens, who prevent poachers from capturing animals like sea turtles. Although he says he was "dead set" on working at a wildlife refuge, Preer said that this conversation encouraged him to be open to all possibilities.
"It opened my eyes to that career opportunity," he said, adding, "I gained a better understanding of all the kinds of careers you can have in fish and wildlife."
Huget said that the symposium exposed her to conservation career options, many that don’t require a science degree.
“I was surprised that not a lot of the career opportunities were just with fish or wildlife. There’s a lot that goes into it. You can come from any background and still be a part of the service.”