The new degree provides foundational skills for professions in wildlife and animal management.
LAS VEGAS, NM—Following a soft launch in the spring, New Mexico Highlands University has now fully launched its new bachelor of science degree in wildlife biology and conservation.
Biology professor and department chair Dr. Jesus Rivas said creating the program was a no-brainer based on the high level of demand from students. Previously, students interested in studying wildlife biology at NMHU only had the option to pursue a degree in forestry with a minor in wildlife management.
“I looked at our catalog, and we had all the courses we needed to provide a wildlife degree,” Rivas said. “It was easy to package all those classes into a degree. We also looked at the requirements for jobs with Fish & Wildlife Service, which are similar to the requirements for other federal agencies.”
The degree requires coursework in biology, genetics, conservation, natural resource management, law and policy, and evolution, among other classes. Rivas said students can also take the courses needed to be certified Biology Biologist by The Wildlife Society, which makes graduates more competitive for jobs in the field.
“A lot of people are interested in animals because of the popularity of National Geographic and Animal Planet. Animals are fascinating. We have biophilia—a natural tendency to like animals,” Rivas said. “Our demographics include a lot of rural students who all grew up seeing animals or grazing animals, this is something that fits well culturally among our students.”
Despite the degree’s fit for NMHU students, Rivas said that wildlife biology is not currently a diverse discipline. He hopes that NMHU, as a Hispanic-serving institution, will help to contribute to a wider global pool of wildlife biologists through the new Wildlife Biology and Conservation degree.
“We expected to have twenty students starting in the program in five years, which was ambitious,” Rivas said. “But we have nineteen students enrolled this fall in its first year, which speaks to the high interest people have in this program.”
Rivas said the degree is a good option for anyone who wants to pursue a career in wildlife refuge management, fish and wildlife biology, game wardens, outfitters, wildlife consultants, zoo keeper, and science teachers, among many other options. He said the degree also offers a solid foundation for anyone who wants to later pursue an advanced degree in ecology, wildlife, or in veterinarian medicine.
“We are excited to launch this new B.S. in wildlife biology and conservation,” Dean of the NMHU College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Brandon Kempner said. “Given the biodiversity in Northern New Mexico and the threats to our ecosystem through the recent fires and flooding, this new degree will give our students the tools to have meaningful careers to understand, research, and preserve the natural beauty of our state and beyond.”