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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU receives $800,000 to help students pursue natural resource careers

While lots of people love the outdoors, they may not know how to turn their interest in nature and wildlife into a career. New Mexico State University was recently awarded an $800,000 grant to help place students on career paths that translate the call of the wild into a profession involving natural resources.

A student holds a burrowing owl by its feet as it flaps its wings.
New Mexico State University student Jamie Joe participating in a research project about the burrowing owl habitat in northeast New Mexico and southwest South Dakota. The owl was briefly studied, then released. (Photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

NMSU was among 20 Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) awarded competitive grants by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support education in areas like natural resource management and agricultural research and was one of only seven institutions to receive a national-scale competitive project.

The goal of the project is to mentor groups of students through collaborations with HSIs to put students on career paths with the USDA Forest Service. Career tracks include working in forestry, wildlife, fisheries, range, entomology, geographic information systems, hydrology and others. Each year NMSU will have a minimum of 50 students enrolled in the program that includes field classes that visit various national forests and introduce students to the ecology of Southwestern ecosystems.

"We provide a professional mentor from the Forest Service, academic mentoring, tutoring, field courses including an international field course in Belize and a student exchange between New Mexico and Puerto Rico," said Martha Desmond, head of NMSU's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology. "The program also includes an annual retreat and funding to attend conferences for networking and professional development."

Students who move through three levels of the program should end up with a permanent job with the Forest Service upon graduation. There is also a fourth level for students involved in the Forest Service's student career experience program that go on to graduate school.

The grant will be renewed annually for up to four years at $800,000 per year for a possible total of $3.2 million. It is a partnership with 12 HSIs. It includes collaborations with other institutions in New Mexico including Highlands University, Luna Community College and NMSU campuses in Alamogordo, Carlsbad and Grants, as well as schools in Puerto Rico, including the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras and Mayaguez.

Desmond said the grant program is an opportunity for NMSU and collaborating institutions to continue cultivating relationships with the Forest Service. The Forest Service regularly seeks applicants for job openings like forestry biologist, wildlife biologist and geographic information systems specialist.

"A diversity of field and academic experiences will change a student's outlook on the value of their education and the types of careers they can and would like to pursue," Desmond said.