Over the month of March, we will be featuring amazing women who have come through Warnell for their education in natural resources to celebrate Women's History Month. Jane Rodrigue (BS ’88, MS ’94) found her calling in a UGA vertebrates natural history class and says choosing to study wildlife biology was a defining moment for her. But now her career has taken an exciting new turn, and she’s finding herself relishing this challenging new role.
What first drew you to the natural resources field? While I grew up "inside the perimeter" in Atlanta, I was fortunate to have access to a large tract of woods in my backyard that I explored constantly. From elementary through high school, I was identifying birds and wildflowers, journaling my discoveries. When I enrolled at UGA, my father, whom was an engineering professor at Georgia Tech, wanted me to major in something practical, so I chose pre-vet/zoology. I knew I was on the right track as I sat in Dr. Provost’s Natural History of Vertebrates along with a large, boisterous, contingent of Warnell School undergraduates – this is what I wanted to do as a career and these were my people! Seeing this, Dr. Provost and Dr. Laerm (Zoology professor) recommended I look into attending graduate school in wildlife at Warnell.
What is your best memory of either Warnell or something from your career?
I loved the opportunities for learning and the camaraderie that is Warnell. In graduate school, we were always helping each with all project work. One day you might be trapping small mammals or running bird transects, and then another day wrestling deer at Whitehall. I ran with a close-knit crowd that knew how to work (and at times, play) hard. Moreover, I realized that the Warnell curriculum was second to none. Once I joined the working world, I discovered just how well prepared I was to not only tackle the day-to-day in the field and office, but also have the confidence and ability to take on the big challenges.
What advice do you have for Warnell students about to graduate and start their careers?
When opportunities present themselves in your career, do not doubt yourself. Go for it and accept the challenge! Often, you may question whether you have the knowledge, skills, ability to succeed, but more often than not, you will surprise yourself. Some of the greatest satisfactions I have had in my career came at those times when agreed to take on work that I was not qualified for "on paper,” but accomplished the task and saw the work through to end. Of course, it always helped that I have a knack for catching critters, finned, feathered or furred, a skill perfected at Warnell. In addition, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of face-to-face meet and greets. You should network at conferences and meetings, and attend work social events whenever you get the chance. Develop your people and self-marketing skills. You never know where your next opportunity may come from.
How has your work or education impacted you as an individual?
I would say the moment I decided to study wildlife biology was the moment I started being my own person and was guided by my internal direction and not that of others. My family was supportive of course, but I do not think they thought I could have a career in wildlife biology and natural resources. Warnell allowed me to utilize my natural curiosity about the world and build my confidence so that my success was ensured. In Dr. Miller’s first cohort of students, I know I benefited from his mentorship, but I also like to think I helped him understand the trials and tribulations of being a college professor.
You've switched careers from working in wildlife and natural resources to international disaster assistance. What do you like most about what you are now doing in your career?
I think people underestimate how important a career change can be in your life. Early in my work career, I had the opportunity to participate in wildland fire fighting and then worked on the logistics of fire, i.e., people and material management. From that, I learned that the skillsets that were in demand in what seemed like the drastically different career track of disaster relief. In reality, they are similar. Getting hundreds of people to a remote part of the West to fight a fire, keep them fed and so forth is not much different conceptually from getting tons of relief supplies to an equally remote corner of the world. When I was offered the opportunity for this career change, I made the decision to take the plunge because I knew I had the confidence and the skills to contribute to something everybody knows is needed. Although I had very little international experience at first, I knew from wildlife work that expecting the unexpected and learning on the fly was something I could do. Heck, I did it everyday!
Currently, the major focus of my work is developing response team disaster systems and procedures, and training people to utilize these systems before they deploy to disaster areas. I am fortunate to be exposed to and participate in a variety of humanitarian relief activities such with planning and oversight teams in Washington, DC, working directly with field-based response personnel, training international search and rescue teams on response procedures, and training Embassy and U.S. Mission staff on the disaster declaration processes and humanitarian relief operations. Variety is the spice of life! And all the while, I can still put my co-workers in their place, no matter the location, when I show them how a Warnell student can “out-bird” all comers.