The 1,000 Sponsors TWS Student’s Trip to Churchill

Polar bear at Churchill Northern Research Centre.

It was about 100 degrees when Michelle Hockenbury flew out of Phoenix in mid-October to travel north. She was headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, for The Wildlife Society’s 22nd Annual Conference and — thanks in part to the generosity of The 1,000 — eventually Churchill Northern Research Centre in the far northern reaches of the province.

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Michelle Hockenbury

“I couldn’t even comprehend how cold Churchill got. It was a level of cold I didn’t ever think I’d feel,” the Yuma, Ariz. native said with a laugh. So the other TWS members visiting the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” with her courteously let Hockenbury have the heated seat on the bus. Sitting in a warm seat, surrounded by warm, friendly people, she got more out of the trip than she ever could have imagined. “I was blown away at the experience. I was given so much advice about directions I could go and they were just very nice, very helpful people.”

Just a few months prior, however, the once-in-a-lifetime trip looked like it might not happen. Hockenbury had originally signed up for the student trip which was to take place before the Conference, but, unfortunately, not enough students were able to attend and it was cancelled. Shortly thereafter, she was notified that if she would like to attend the longer, more in-depth trip designed for wildlife professionals following the Conference, The 1,000 would cover the difference in cost for her to go.

“It was already going to be a pretty expensive trip because it was so far away from home,” She said. “They not only gave me the opportunity to go to the professional (trip) but then helped me get there. That was really nice; I don’t know if I can thank them enough.”

The 1,000 is an initiative that was started in June of 2014 by TWS Chief Operating Officer Ed Thompson and former President Bruce Leopold. The goal of the initiative is to unify 1,000 members who “Lead by Example” through annual donations between $100- $1,000 each in support of TWS Strategic Plan Initiatives.

“Over the past year, The 1,000 has had a significant impact on the quality of our website, our annual conference, diversity initiatives, and the launch of a new member benefit — TWS Talks,” Thompson said, “Through the support of The 1,000, providing Michelle with this unique opportunity is just one more example of how TWS helps develop future generations of wildlife professionals.”

After serving the people of her home community as a probation officer for nearly 20 years, Hockenbury decided it was a great time to start helping the animals, too. Her lifelong passion for wildlife and enthusiasm for the outdoors was the catalyst for her career change, which landed her at Northern Arizona University at Yuma pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology. It wasn’t long before she got involved with TWS, becoming a founding member of the school’s first chapter.

For an undergraduate among Ph.D students, professionals and even retirees, the learning and networking possibilities in Churchill were endless. Hockenbury came out of the trip with a vast array of connections and career advice. Perhaps more important to her future in the wildlife field are the friends she made.

“It’s a trip I’m never going to forget,” she said, fondly remembering the adventure, which included a tundra buggy ride, a helicopter tour, various guest speakers, and a rare tour of Churchill’s polar bear jail – temporary holding cells for problem bears that won’t leave town. They saw polar bears up close, polar bears far away, polar bears sparring, and polar bears slowly migrating toward the sea-ice that was beginning to form on Hudson Bay. “There was even one night the clouds cleared for about 20 minutes and we got to see the Northern Lights. It was amazing.”

Hockenbury returned to Arizona with great memories and plenty of new ideas about potential areas of study. Although she hasn’t made any decisions about that yet, she plans to continue her schooling in a master’s program after graduation. She also has a newfound knowledge of how important these networking events are for students and hopes to share that with her peers as TWS gears up for its 23rd Annual Conference next year in Raleigh, N.C.

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