New Mexico State University Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology Department Professor Martha Desmond was awarded Professional of the Year by the New Mexico chapter of the Wildlife Society for her development of the Natural Resource Career Track Program.
The program is a collaboration among 14 Hispanic-serving institutions and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As the principal investigator for NRCT, Desmond works closely with the U.S. Forest Service with the ultimate goal of securing indefinite positions for students with federal agencies and mentoring students toward graduate programs.
“We provide them with lab mentorships, seminars, training opportunities, and we guide them toward success by encouraging them to pursue their own paid positions,” Desmond said.
Currently, 87 students actively participate in the program, with 11 graduate students and 14 of those students on permanent federal tracks.
“With this program we interview students, we look at how serious they are and where their interests really lie,” Desmond said. “Our major goal here is to diversify the workforce, so that 10 years down the line the workforce mirrors the demographic in the population.”
In August, this will be the fourth and final year for the project, and in turn, she will submit a proposal to the USDA on how it can build on its strengths and move forward. The project began with 50 students and now takes about 15-20 new students per year, depending on graduation rates.
“Mentoring students to figure out what is it that they want and then helping them achieve those goals are ultimately the best part of being involved with this program,” Desmond said. “I enjoy seeing that they appreciate it, and they really do.”
Another component is an exchange program between students in New Mexico and students in Puerto Rico. Two to four students a year will spend a semester in a partner school. Two NMSU students are currently at University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras and Humacao. Two students from the UPR-Mayaguez campus are studying on the NMSU main campus.
“It’s not an international experience but it is a global experience and they get to experience a different culture and system,” Desmond said.
Desmond came to NMSU in 1999 after finishing her post-doctorate through the National Science Foundation at the Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua and Texas A&M Kingsville. Her interests are in wildlife ecology, specifically birds and grasslands systems.
For more information on the New Mexico-Puerto Rico Natural Resource Career Tracks Program, visit http://nrct.nmsu.edu.