Building a student-motivated chapter

By Dana Kobilinsky

Cary Chevalier earned the Student Advisor of the Year Award. Courtesy: Cary Chevalier

When Cary Chevalier was earning his bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University, he was a member of the student chapter of The Wildlife Society, but it didn’t have much faculty involvement or mentoring. So when he became the student advisor for a new chapter at Missouri Western State University, he made sure that, while he let the students run their own events and meetings, he was there for all of those events and to input his ideas and advice. This involvement, and the success of the MWSU student chapter, earned Chevalier the Student Advisor of the Year Award.

Chevalier wasn’t always interested in working in academia. After earning his PhD, he landed a job at the Arizona Game and Fish Department as a biostatistician. After several years there, he and his colleagues became frustrated that the talented young staffers they hired knew their “ologies,” but they didn’t have boots-on-the-ground experience, and they didn’t stick around. After he and his colleagues created a mentorship program, “lo and behold, our loss rates plummeted,” he said.

This incident got Chevalier thinking. Why was he working with young professionals after the fact when he could be teaching them in universities? “Why don’t I go back upstream and help them while they’re still in academia?” he thought.

After an initial position at Grand Canyon State University, he landed at Missouri Western. There, he helped build a wildlife program where students can earn their wildlife biology certifications through their classes.

In 2002, students came into his office, saying they wanted to start a student chapter, and Chevalier was happy to take the lead and become their advisor.

Chevalier lets the student run their own meetings, but he offers his advice. He thinks of the chapter as if it were a class, even though students don’t earn credits from it. Students at the university use a computer program for all of their classes, and Chevalier has added the TWS chapter onto the program as well. There, students can access information about certifications and more. “I tell them my expectation is they treat the meetings they’re attending in the same fashion as if they were to attend an algebra class,” he said.

Meetings always have professional speakers, sometimes even members of the chapter discussing their internship experiences. From these speakers, students have earned opportunities like conducting fall quail counts that are used for research and management. Members have also been involved in deer spotlight surveys on two national wildlife refuges.

His passion doesn’t go unnoticed by students. “Dr. Chevalier has exhibited a strong devotion to the wildlife profession and consistently advocates to his students the importance of using sound science in their careers,” the Student Development Working Group wrote in its selection.

“It’s a stunning honor, and I’m very grateful and very privileged to be recognized,” Chevalier said. “But to me, it’s a righteous privilege to be part of The Wildlife Society. Organizations come and go, and temporarily lose their way, but The Wildlife Society has been pretty solid. I’m proud to be a member.”

Click here for a complete list of 2021 TWS award winners. For more about this year’s virtual conference, click here.

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is associate editor at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

Read more of Dana's articles here.


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