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“Anytime I am able to get out to our nation’s wild places, I am filled with the truest sense of joy,” says Sanders.
For Sanders, pursing a degree in parks and recreation management fulfills a lifelong passion. The Barboursville, West Virginia native originally earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and affairs from Marshall University. She went to work for a firm that specializes in supply chain management. But after a couple years, Sanders opted to return to school.
“I have reached a point in my life where I think it is absolutely essential to follow what you are passionate about,” Sanders says. “For me, that is natural resource and wildlife conservation management.”
Sanders transferred that devotion into research through the College of Public Service and Community Solutions’ Undergraduate Research Program. She worked with Megha Budruk, an associate professor in School of Community Resources and Development. Sanders learned how to articulate a research question, write a literature review, and design and administer a survey on younger people’s attitudes about preserving wilderness areas.
“The research opportunity is important for students like Renee who would like to have a deeper challenge from their academic program or who are seeking admission into graduate school,” says Budruk. “It also allows for greater access and much more meaningful interactions with faculty and graduate students thus providing a nurturing atmosphere within which students may pursue their interests.”
Sander’s experience from the Undergraduate Research Program helped her earn the inaugural George Lea Founder’s Scholarship from the Public Lands Foundation. The Scholarship is named after a former range manager and deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management. The $5,000 scholarship includes an invitation to attend an annual meeting of the Public Lands Foundation and the opportunity to shadow a local BLM manager for a day.
“As part of our youth initiative, we look for students who are committed to the management of natural resources and may not otherwise be able to complete their schooling,” says Mike Ferguson, a member of the Public Lands Foundation Board of Directors.
Ferguson says Sanders rose to the top of the list of applicants because of her involvement in both student and professional associations and her desire to pursue a career related to wildlife management on public lands.
“Advocating for the protection of our natural resources, our lands, and our wildlife is the most important thing I can think of, and I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else with my life,” Sanders says.” For me, it’s not just about a job; it’s about doing what drives me. I want a career where I feel that I am making a positive impact on our planet.”