NRM’s rebuilt Wildlife Society pushes Texas Tech into national spotlight
By: Allen Ramsey
Walk into any meeting of The Wildlife Society on Texas Tech's campus and you're likely to see 30 or more students engaging with a leader in the wildlife field. The monthly meetings are only a small part of the chapter. The calendar for the group is cluttered with experiences.
During the last two years, it has participated in multiple deer captures, a bighorn capture and a turkey capture, all working hands-on with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or similar organizations along the way. An annual state conference and events on campus give students the chance to present their research and posters.
Fundraisers like the annual wild game dinner, where students and sponsors put on a pot-luck style meal with meats ranging from elk and pronghorn to mealworms, are student-led and help pay for travel and other expenses. And they excel at all of it.
A good part of the credit for this energetic pace goes to professors Blake Grisham and Warren Conway. Grisham, an associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources Management, earned his doctorate at Texas Tech in 2012 and focuses his research on game and non-game bird species in the context of a changing climate. Conway, the Bricker Endowed Chair in Wildlife Management and chair of the Department of Natural Resources Management, also earned his doctorate from Texas Tech and returned to Lubbock following a 12-year stint as a professor at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Arriving at Texas Tech at around the same time in 2016, both saw the need to rebuild The Wildlife Society and decided to take it on. “The secret, if you really want to rebuild a program the way we have, is you have to have engaged faculty who want to contribute,” Grisham said. “If you don't have that it'll fall apart.”
Grisham and Conway are certainly engaged. “It was just a very supportive and comfortable environment, and they both strove to make it that way,” said Charlotte Wilson, a former wildlife society officer who now works for Quail Forever. “I think my biggest takeaway is that they actually care about their students. They're going to do everything they can to prepare you for the workforce and for getting a job.”
Wilson came to Texas Tech in 2015 and was part of TWS when Conway and Grisham took it over. In her view, the two professors formed the foundation on which the chapter's success is built. “Grisham and Conway were always at those meetings, always there,” she said.
As students took ownership and learned how to manage the chapter, fundraisers went from being held in Grisham's backyard to needing spaces like the National Ranching Heritage Center, the American Windmill Museum and the Dairy Barn to house them. In short order, the club was not only back on its feet but was being recognized for producing quality students, and the money raised was creating opportunities for those students to attend more conferences and hands-on wildlife captures.
“The reality is we were building a culture,” Conway explained. “And it has to start from the students. You can't have that from the top down.”
With guidance from Grisham and Conway, the students of Texas Tech's TWS chapter developed a reputation as reliable, knowledgeable and well-trained wildlife professionals, earning them invitations to work with some of the top wildlife figures in the country. Recognition came from The Wildlife Society at a wider level as well. An international nonprofit promoting wildlife stewardship through science and education, TWS has 10 student chapters across Texas and nearly 150 nationwide.
Micah Rainey, a former TWS officer who is now a student at Texas Tech's School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo, started a tradition of Texas Tech students being named Texas Chapter Student of the Year in 2020. Sophie Morris followed that up as Student of the Year in 2021, and in 2022 Lainey Taylor made it three in a row.
The 2022 Texas Tech TWS chapter took the recognition up another notch. At the state conference the students from Texas Tech were named State Chapter of the Year, but they weren't done there. They went on to capture the National Chapter of the Year award at The Wildlife Society national conference in Spokane, Washington, in November.
The awards also are a testament to the dedication of Grisham and Conway, though they refuse to take much credit for it. “The students have to have that pride, that sense of accomplishment in what they're doing,” Grisham said. “We just want to support them and provide a vision and they kind of do the rest.” Conway added, “What the students do from year to year, they build on what came before and it becomes tradition. It becomes our culture and it becomes the norm. We just help facilitate that.”
CONTACT: Warren Conway, Bricker Endowed Chair in Wildlife Management and Chairperson, Department of Natural Resources Management, Texas Tech University at (806) 834-6579 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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