Ray '13 named Student Conservationist of the Year

Release Date: 9/11/2013

Lauren Ray, a 2013 Ozarks graduate, has been named the Arkansas Wildlife Federation's Student Conservationist of the Year for her efforts during her senior year at the University.

Lauren Ray

Lauren Ray, a 2013 Ozarks graduate, was named the Arkansas Wildlife Federation's Student Conservationist of the Year during the organization's annual banquet in August. Also attending the AWF Banquet were Environmental Studies Professor Dr. Kim Van Scoy and Ozarks Outdoors Director Jamie Lewis Hedges.

The honor was announced during the annual Governor's Conservation Achievement Awards Banquet on Aug. 24.

Ray, an environmental studies graduate, was actively involved in several conservation-oriented clubs and organizations on campus, and also served as a program coordinator for Ozarks Outdoors.  After graduation, she accepted a position with the Illinois River Watershed Partnership (IRWP) in Fayetteville, Ark.

At the annual reception last month in Bryant, Ark., Gov. Mike Beebe presented Ray with her award.

"I got a phone call one evening in July from Ethan Nahte, executive director of the AWF, to tell me the news," Ray said. "I hadn't been having the best week, so I was especially thrilled to get some good news.  If I remember correctly, I might have danced a little bit. When I know that what I'm doing is appreciated, I enjoy my work that much more. Recognition always motivates me to keep working hard."

Ray emphasized that this award should be shared with the entire Ozarks community.

"I have many people at Ozarks to credit for their investment in my success," Ray said. "Jamie Lewis Hedges for his invaluable mentorship and training through Ozarks Outdoors. Dr. Kim Van Scoy for her unrivaled enthusiasm for teaching and helping students find their passion. Dr. Doug Jeffries for his lighthearted wisdom and ability to motivate students in their toughest days. And, Dr. Bill Clary for helping me recognize the value of conversation and open-mindedness.  These folks, and many others, inspired me to pursue my passion for conservation and to excel in it."

Ray certainly found her calling at Ozarks and, through her work as Education Outreach Coordinator with the IRWP, she is educating children about the importance of conservation.

"Wise use and management of our planet's natural resources are essential for the survival and prosperity of all life.  Conservation is key in ensuring that our species doesn't overstep its bounds within the intricate, fragile system on which we rely," Ray said. "One of my favorite parts of working with the IRWP is being able to experience children's reactions when they have an 'a-ha!' moment about the environment."

Ray's advice for other students interested in a career in conservation is simple: Get used to networking.

"Networking is invaluable in this profession, as it is in most," she said. "If you volunteer in conservation projects, attend regional conferences, go to relevant on-campus presentations, and seek summer internships, you'll start to see a lot of the same professionals over and over again.  Talk to them. Ask them questions.  They have a lot of good advice, and if they see you often enough, you'll leave a good impression with them about your dedication to this work. Also, don't underestimate the ingenuity of your professors and advisors at Ozarks.  If you make a point to talk to your professors outside of class, you'll be amazed at how much more enriching your college experience will be."