Colombia native blazes trails for diversity through outreach

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Hispanic Outreach Coordinator Alix Pedraza accepts the 2016 Diversity Award from Past-President Gary Potts in Raliegh, North Carolina. ©TWS

It’s been less than two years since the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources launched its Hispanic Outreach Program, but the state is already seeing profound impacts and has gained national recognition. Alix Pedraza, who heads the program as the department’s Hispanic Outreach Coordinator, accepted The Wildlife Society’s 2016 Diversity Award at the Annual Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, for her efforts.

“It was incredible to get the award. Honestly I was quite in shock when I got it,” Pedraza said, “It meant the world to me, but I also hope that other people realize how important it is to reach out to other groups.”

Pedraza was working toward a bachelor’s degree in education and biology back home in Colombia when she came to the United States as part of a four-month exchange program. Four months was not enough for Pedraza, however, so she decided to stay and enroll in a wildlife management associate degree program at Horry Georgetown Technical College in South Carolina. It was during her time at HGTC that she became involved with The Wildlife Society, and in 2014 she was presented with the South Carolina Chapter’s Outstanding Undergraduate Student award. It was also when she first became involved with the SCDNR.

“For that specific program you have to do an internship,” Pedraza said. “So the [SC]DNR came to my school, they did the interview, and I got one of the internships they were offering.”

With transfer credits from HGTC and even some from Colombia, Pedraza completed her B.S. in biology from Coastal Carolina University in just one year­­ while working her internship with SCDNR. Her biology background was important when Director Alvin Taylor asked Pedraza to take on the role as Hispanic Outreach Coordinator toward the end of her internship.

“They know that the Hispanic population is very high in South Carolina, so they have already tried to do a few things with the Hispanic community but it didn’t work out quite well,” Pedraza said. “So they created that position…because [the director] thought it would be a good fit for me. It was very important that the person wasn’t just bilingual but also involved with biology and knew about [SC]DNR and what we do.”

Pedraza accepted the position before she had even completed her degree at Coastal Carolina, and began working full-time in May 2015. Since then, the program has been responsible for the creation of a Spanish language website consisting of over 200 pages of information on licensing, boating, education, fishing, hunting and regulations. Between July 2015 and March 2016, visits to that site have risen 238 percent. The program has printed or published more than 50 resources and reached 7,000 participants by attending Hispanic festivals and events. Most importantly, Hispanic participation in SCDNR events has seen marked increases.

One of the biggest things Pedraza has done thus far is expand South Carolina hunting and fishing licensing regulations. Previously, state-issued identification or social security was required to purchase licenses in South Carolina, but Pedraza realized many Hispanics working toward citizenship do not have either of these yet. By rewriting the regulation, Pedraza has been able to allow for the sale of non-resident licenses to anyone with any photo ID, including passports. According to Pedraza, the state has already seen the Hispanic population taking advantage of the change.

It has come a long way in a short time, but Pedraza notes that with no history or predecessors in the program, and outdated demographic research and statistics, they still face challenges. They are still trying new things and evaluating what works and what doesn’t. During these winter months, she and her two new staff members will be planning for the upcoming year. But come spring and summer, they will spend much of their time out in the community, performing first-hand outreach to the Hispanic community. One thing Pedraza has emphasized is seeing the Hispanic community from a family perspective. While it’s important to involve kids, she says Hispanics are so family oriented that it’s important to target the whole family, including parents.

“I think if you give the chance to the adults, they have just as much fun and I think that it’s also a powerful message,” Pedraza said. “My vision is to have a steady program… We want the DNR to provide the experience of being outdoors but we also want the people to learn where they can find the materials they need to go and visit one of our properties without us having to be there for them.”