Students returned to the Virginia Tech campus after Thanksgiving break ready to whip up favorite recipes for the Annual Wild Game Dinner, hosted by The Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society at Virginia Tech (VT TWS) on December 3. Participants voted for the best dishes among game, non-game, and dessert categories featuring homemade pastas, venison chiles, and rabbit gumbo.
The dinner provides a unique opportunity for students, faculty, professionals, and local residents to share a meal and bid in a silent auction. Attendees also watched a faculty vs. student round of wildlife quiz bowl.
“Give the first and last name of the reigning champion of the college’s chili cook-off,” read the moderator of the relaxed undergraduate versus faculty quiz bowl match. The audience chuckled at the sudden departure from the typical academic topics.
The 75 attendees helped raise more than $800 for the student chapter, making it the year’s most significant fundraising opportunity. These funds allow the chapter to host speakers, participate in long-term research, and support student conference participation. VT TWS is saving to establish a scholarship for a first-year student to attend the TWS Annual Conference each fall. “We wanted to involve new students in conferences so they can experience TWS in a professional context,” said Felicia Miller, Conference and Conclave Chair, who proposed the idea. VT TWS consistently attends professional events, including the recent Annual Conference in Raleigh, NC, where students volunteered, presented posters, and competed in quiz bowl. The chapter anticipates attending the Virginia TWS Conference in February and the Southeastern Student Conclave in March.
VT TWS regularly provides opportunities for professional development. The chapter hosts guest speakers on topics ranging from big game research to falconry. Regular workshops, like resume reviews, improve members’ professional skills. This year’s students created a new quiz bowl course for credit, where they hone wildlife trivia skills and learn good sportsmanship. The chapter also participates in research by maintaining 20 camera trap stations at Mountain Lake Biological Station, contributing to a 13-year data set.
Inclusion and diversity are priorities for VT TWS. Through its Mentorship Program, over 40 undergraduate and graduate students were paired at the beginning of the semester to welcome new members and share professional guidance throughout the year. In late October, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the chapter’s State Representative provided a Hunter Safety Course on campus. It recruited new enthusiasts for a declining tradition when fifteen Hokies became hunters. Next semester, VT TWS will collaborate with the student chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences to host a guest speaker on diversity and inclusion in the wildlife profession.
“Game Dinner facilitated an inclusive atmosphere of students, faculty, and professionals in the wildlife community at Virginia Tech,” said Garrett Rhyne, Marketing and Advertising Chair, who led and organized the event. “People met new friends, enjoyed delicious homemade meals – like award-winning cricket cookies – and raised money for an amazing student chapter. I’m not sure how our biggest event of the year could have gone better, and I am so pleased with its contribution to our chapter’s success.”