Alumni Spotlight: Roberta Ryan

Degree (s)/ Major (s): Fisheries and Wildlife B.S.
Grad Year: 2014
Advisor: Dr. James Forester
Current organization/ employer: Wildlife Science Center

Favorite memory of campus: There were a lot of things I loved about the St. Paul campus, but I most enjoyed watching people walk their dogs. It's hard for me to walk past a dog without saying hello, and I met a lot of interesting people that way! My impromptu dog visits always put me in a good mood, and I cherished them.

Why did you choose CFANS as a college? I chose CFANS as a college because it felt like home long before I became a student. I was in my high school's FFA, and had spent some time on campus during a few consecutive FFA state conventions. I always felt very comfortable during my campus visits, and I was immediately able to picture myself there. I also spent a few years as a youth volunteer at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, making me feel familiar with the surrounding area and like I was already a part of the community. Most of all, I wanted all of the benefits that came with going to a large university, but yearned for the small college atmosphere, and CFANS offered me that.

Why do you think the University of Minnesota is great? The University of Minnesota provided me with everything I needed to be competative as I pursued a wildlife career. The faculty are some of the best in their field, and they were always willing to go out of their way to support me and give me incredible opportunities. The students are extremely friendly, and I had no trouble at all getting along with my peers. The college also offers a number of programs and experiences designed to nurture students and set them up for success. The mentor program, study abroad programs, and field courses are just a few of the things I participated in during my time at the University of Minnesota, and they all played a critical roll in making me the person I am today.

Career information/ professional achievements: I've been fortunate enough to be a part of several prestigious wildlife research projects. During the summer of 2014, I worked on the Isle-Royale Wolf-Moose Project. The project is the world's longest running predator-prey study, and it's headed by some of the most prominent wolf biologists in the field. I spent most of 2015 volunteering full-time for the Minnesota DNR on multiple moose studies, working to discover factors behind the rapid moose decline. I worked on the Voyageurs National Park Wolf and Beaver Projects in the fall of 2015, where I learned the art of humane live-trapping, polished my wildlife handling skills, and had the pleasure of radio-collaring my first wolf. Most recently, in early 2016, I was fortunate enough to be part of the world-renowned Yellowstone Wolf Project Winter Study, where I spent up to 14 hours each day recording behavioral and predatory data on wild wolves while working with some of the world's most highly-esteemed wildlife biologists.

In January 2016, I was hired as the animal care/education assistant at the Wildlife Science Center (WSC) in Columbus, MN. This highly respected non-profit organization focuses on public education, endangered species conservation, cutting-edge wildlife research, and the training of wildlife professionals. I began volunteering at WSC when I was 14 years old, and had long hoped that I may have a more permanent future there. After nearly eight years of hard work and invaluable experiences, I was finally able to secure a full-time position. My typical duties include animal care, teaching education programs, and assisting with research projects. No two days are alike, and I'm fortunate enough to have a wide variety of things to keep me busy!

What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field? From a young age, I wanted nothing more than to have a job where I could work with wolves, and I'm extremely pleased to say that I have accomplished that goal more thoroughly than my 2nd grade self could ever have hoped for. I'm interested in carnivores as a whole, but I am especially fascinated by wolf behavior, and getting to work around them and with them allows me to study their behavior daily. The thing I love most about my job at WSC is that I am constantly learning from the animals I care for, and I'm able to share that first-hand knowledge with the WSC's many visitors. It's an extremely rewarding way to be involved in wildlife conservation.

An often-recited cliche states that if you love what you do, you'll never have to work a day in your life. I am one of the extremely blessed people that gets to live out their childhood dream, and I am incredibly thankful and in-debited to every person that made it possible.

How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today? When I became a student at the U of M, I knew what I wanted to do, and I thought I knew how I was going to get there. During my time at the college, I realized that I could pull so much more out of my undergraduate experience than just a degree. Being a student at the U of M challenged me, humbled me, excited me, and opened my mind up to a new way of thinking. I gained the critical ecology foundation I needed to be competitive with my peers, and I discovered how to learn in an effective and efficient way. I was also able to network with people that critically contributed to my professional development, and I was nurtured by staff and faculty that continue to be interested in my professional endeavors. Ultimately, my education at the U of M allowed me to realize several life-long career goals, and the things I learned along the way inform the decisions I make every day.

What advice do you have for current students (and future alumni)? When I began my first semester at the U of M, my goal was to get in and out of school as quickly as I could. I immediately realized that taking that approach would have been a huge mistake! I would tell current students to enjoy their college journey as much as possible, and to squeeze as many experiences, adventures, and opportunities out of it as they can. If current students take advantage of each and every chance to get involved with the school and all that it has to offer, they will graduate with a well-rounded resume, an impressive network, and a better understanding of what they want out of their career, all in addition to the degree they are striving towards.