Minnesota celebrates WOW factor at annual meeting

By Julia John

Minnesota Chapter members network during their first Women of Wildlife event at their annual meeting in St. Cloud. ©Kelsey Jennings

Women of Wildlife events don’t usually occur outside The Wildlife Society’s annual conference, but the Minnesota Chapter shook things up and forged its own path with a WOW gathering at its annual meeting in St. Cloud.

Dozens of wildlifers turned up at the February gathering to celebrate the accomplishments of women in the wildlife profession and shape the future of WOW in Minnesota.

“I was able to attend the national TWS meeting this fall and was excited to go to the WOW event there,” said Nina Hill, an event co-organizer and graduate student at the University of Minnesota. “Women and men were gathered there, and there was so much energy in the room. Everybody was happy to be together. I wanted to bring that home for our chapter.”

That’s how she and her partner Ami Thompson, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota, started planning the WOW brainstorming and networking session. It provided an open opportunity for the Minnesota Chapter’s members to meet female biologists, honor their wildlife contributions, consider their needs in the field and share visions for launching WOW as a structured chapter group.

“This WOW meeting was the first, ‘let’s celebrate what we’ve all accomplished together and review our chapter’s current policy, like sexual harassment,’” said Hill, who joined the Minnesota Chapter in 2015. “This can be a place where we discuss those things and work together to address them. We wanted to create space for members to define what the group would look like and identify leaders and what they would do moving forward. We wanted to keep it positive, to come together and support each other. We’re trying to promote inclusiveness.”

Over 50 people participated that morning, she said, almost a quarter of the chapter meeting’s total attendance.

“There was great energy in the room, a lot of good ideas and people stepping up for planning next steps,” Hill said.

They decided to follow up with a WOW event during the chapter’s summer workshop in August, she said, and to build a Facebook page to improve communication among their female scientists.

“The wildlife field benefits from a diversity of skills, personalities and viewpoints,” Hill said. “We’ve come a long way as far as equality in the workplace and being represented. I look around our chapter and see very talented women holding higher-level positions in the organization and their careers and being recognized for their work.”

She hopes to give back to the Minnesota Chapter by developing WOW to guide a rising generation of wildlifers.

“This can expose them to different career paths and role models,” Hill said. I look at the women in my chapter like, ‘Wow, if you can do it, so can I.’ I want to provide that for younger professionals who’re not sure where their career is going to take them.”

Julia John is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at jjohn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article.

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