Building more than a Fisheries and Wildlife Program
Dr. Bob Anderson came to Valley City State University in 2005 to build a Fisheries and Wildlife Program. Now his students are researching, protecting and managing critical parts of our ecosystem and landscape.
When Bob Anderson was hired at Valley City State in 2005, he had a straightforward objective: build a Fisheries and Wildlife program.
“When I first came, there were zero students in the program,” he said. “It didn’t officially exist until the fall of 2006.”
Now, students across the nation come to VCSU to get a Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science with three concentrations available: Wildlife, Fisheries, and/or Conservation Law Enforcement.
Anderson built curriculum, marketed the program and had eleven students the next year.
“The program was designed to include many hands-on field experiences, resulting in the program growing fairly quickly,” Anderson said.
Dr. Casey Williams was hired in 2011 to specialize in fisheries and the program continued to grow, recently reaching 70 students. The goal is to grow to 100.
Anderson and Williams take pride in helping connect students with internships and ensuring their resumes are strong.
“We work closely with students to help them find internships in the summer,” Anderson said. “Each summer we have 50 students in internships working for all sorts of natural resource agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Dakota Game and Fish, Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl.”
There is a need for individuals to fill jobs related to conservation biology, but also jobs that are tied to law enforcement, environmental consulting related to wind farm and oil development and general natural resource management.
“When students first enter the major, most are not aware of the diversity of jobs available. When they graduate, they are prepared to become natural resource professionals. It is very rewarding for me to see our graduates become biologists, land managers, game wardens, environmental consultants, park rangers and farm bill biologists, among other positions. By the time they graduate many have developed specialized interests in areas they didn’t know existed just a few years earlier, and often continue their education in graduate school,” said Anderson.
VCSU Fisheries and Wildlife graduates like Jim Job ’10 are prepared for it all.
FOLLOWING HIS DREAM
From the age of 5, Job knew he wanted to be a game warden. That dream came true after he graduated from Valley City State and then the Law Enforcement Academy.
He viewed the job from a customer service perspective.
“I wanted to educate as much as I could, especially the kids,” Job said. “I wanted their first game warden experience to be a positive one.”
In 2016, he was honored as North Dakota’s Wildlife Officer of the Year.
That dedication and willingness to teach has now landed him within North Dakota Game and Fish as an outreach biologist.
He teaches anyone who will listen about the wonders of nature in North Dakota.
Words from Bob Anderson continue to help him succeed professionally, especially when he is a radio show guest and a caller has a very specific question.
“One of the biggest things that Bob told us is that you don’t remember everything from college but you learn where to look for that information in college,” Job said. “There are times on the radio show, times when I don’t know the answer, but I can go back and get the answer for them.”
Job loves his work, and continues to see more people take an active interest in the natural environment.
“Most people in North Dakota enjoy the outdoors whether you know it or not,” he said. “It could be as simple as planting flowers outside that help honeybees and many other things.”
Although not everyone is cut out for doctorate level studies focusing on Fisheries and Wildlife, Job encourages everyone to learn a few small things about the world around them.
“Be more aware of your surroundings and ask questions,” he said. “Questions like, ‘What kind of bird is that,’ go through your head and knowing the answer can make a walk or any outdoor activity more enjoyable.”
Awareness and perseverance helped Job recently capture a ruffed grouse performing a unique “drum display” in 4K video in the state for North Dakota Game and Fish.
Job had already been to the spot where he knew a male ruffed grouse frequented. He had already set up blinds and cameras, but every time the little bird would jump out of sight of the lens before starting his performance.
Then one cold morning, Job got lucky.
As the sun broke through the trees overhead, the bird started to perform, and the video is magic.
Job is just one of many VCSU Fisheries and Wildlife graduates working every day in the field to research, protect, manage and promote various species of plants, wildlife, fishes and more. The graduates are doing remarkably different things, but they all started in the same classes with Anderson and Williams at VCSU.
FINDING HER WAY
Amy (Doll) Gebhard ’14 always knew she wanted to go to VCSU. “Isn’t it every little girl’s dream to be a doctor or a vet,” she said laughing. “I knew I wanted to work with animals from a very young age.”
As she started studying animals through the Fisheries and Wildlife Program and completing internships, she realized her passion was in fisheries.
She spent summer months working for North Dakota Game and Fish, Texas Parks and Wildlife and with the Prairie Waters Research Center. After graduation she landed a graduate position at Tennessee Tech University, researching banded sculpin, a freshwater fish.
Then she was hired as a resource biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks in 2017 and in 2019 was promoted to a fisheries biologist where she continues that work today.
“We have four reservoirs on the Missouri River in the state and I work with two of them,” she explained. Gebhard said her time at VCSU prepared her well for her current position.
“Valley City does a very good job in the fisheries and wildlife program making sure kids have the hands on experience they need,” she said. “That prepared me for internships and future jobs.”
Kyle McLean ’11 couldn’t agree more.
“The focus is on mentoring and preparing students not only to have the academic knowledge base to be a professional, but to outline the steps needed to end up where you want to end up,” McLean said of the Fisheries and Wildlife program. “You could become a scientist, or be on the ground managing a landscape.”
McLean transferred to VCSU from Jamestown specifically for the program. As a kid, he was always interested in the outdoors and collected various field guides.
His schooling, along with his love of field guides landed him a very specific job. The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center needed someone to survey how many frogs were present.
McLean had a pretty good handle on frog calls, as he would listen to old CDs connected to field guides about frog species. So he spent time in a truck, driving a 14-mile loop listening for frog calls to determine how many frogs were in the area.
That work led to years of management and research work. Last January he earned his doctorate from NDSU and is now a research ecologist with the Research Center.
“My goal is to conduct research that provides management and policy agencies with a scientific understanding of the climate or land use factors that help maintain biodiversity,” McLean said. “It’s a balancing act.”
Finding that balance between stakeholders, the resources, development and other interests is important, and complex, and McLean enjoys it.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
John Lindstrom ’11 knows that balancing act well. The Minnesota- grown football talent first came to VCSU to play football. But a broken foot left him focusing on his studies and getting very involved with the program.
During the summer months he was able to get seasonal internships like many other students studying under Anderson and Williams. His first placement was with Fish and Wildlife in Minnesota, and the doors kept opening.
He spent time looking for birds near Kulm, North Dakota and meeting with landowners north of Medina about conservation easements.
But Lindstrom’s love was always waterfowl, specifically ducks.
“I identified early on that ducks are my passion, they are still my passion,” he said. His post- graduation path took him to graduate school researching ducks migrating just north of the Kentucky border. Now he is working to restore, preserve and improve habitat for waterfowl through Ducks Unlimited as a regional biologist in central Minnesota.
Every year, his heart brings him back to Valley City. For the past 12 years he and a group of friends and family have returned to North Dakota to enjoy duck hunting season.
He credits Anderson and Williams for turning VCSU into a hub for training individuals in conservation work or for graduate school.
FROM INTERN TO STOPPING INVASIVE SPECIES
It only took Ben Holen ’18 a few conversations with Anderson and Williams to decide to become a VCSU Viking.
The Bismarck, North Dakota graduate always knew he wanted to go into conservation. He grew up hunting and fishing, but was not totally certain what studying the topic meant.
“Right away Bob Anderson teaches Introduction to Fisheries and Wildlife Techniques,” Holen said. “I knew then it was the right profession for me.”
He worked as an intern for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and for a similar agency in Idaho and then did trout restoration in Utah.
Eventually he applied to come back home and was picked up as a biologist for Game and Fish working with Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS).
Now, as the statewide coordinator for this effort, he is one of the main individuals helping stop the spread of species like zebra mussels.
“The ANS fight is big. It’s important to have people out on the landscape to inspect watercraft, and to get the word out there,” Holen said. “We are a very small agency in general and we work to recruit other partners to help with this.”
The importance of building relationships and partnerships is one of the many takeaways he had as a VCSU student. Lindstrom agreed. “It’s such a small, close and tight-knit campus,” Lindstrom said. “Everyone knows everyone and that is what conservation is too.”