The Backstory:

One day in February 2023, as Judy Gordon walked across the bridge that spans the lush forest of the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, she paused to look up to see the banners hung at each light post along the bridge. On one of them was Mamie Parker, a legendary conservationist, leader and trailblazer in the Service. Parker held numerous senior executive positions in her Service career and was the first African American regional director in the Service. Seeing Parker on the banner made Gordon reflect on her own career, and her own firsts.

Gordon learned she was the first woman to hold the assistant regional director role in the Service’s Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program. She realized later that she was also the first African American center director for a Fish Technology Center in the Service, and likely the first woman in that role. 

As a person who tends to shy away from the spotlight, Gordon did not initially see herself as a role model. But over the course of her nearly 40-year career, she has become much more aware and sensitive to the fact that people see her that way. She is embracing it – wanting to be visible and encouraging to others who are coming up in their careers. 

“I just wanted to be a fish biologist,” she says. “I didn’t want to be the ‘Black, female fish biologist.’ But it does matter that I am…it matters to people.”

This project was created to further the visibility of people of color in the conservation field. Although this project centers around Black and African American employees who came through the Fish and Aquatic Conservation program in the Pacific Region, the hope is that their stories elevate the visibility and representation for all people of color in conservation, science, and outreach now and for the next generation.

"Having a diverse workforce that reflects the American public is exceptionally important, and we work passionately toward increasing our reach to wider audiences so that our workforce truly represents the public we serve,” says Hugh Morrison, Regional Director of the Pacific Region. “When faced with this challenge, Judy Gordon and the fisheries team didn't just talk about it. They moved forward, put plans in place and made change happen. We're so proud of the work they do, and I am very proud to share it here." 

As the Service endeavors to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in our workforce and work culture, Gordon has facilitated highly effective programs in the Pacific Region’s Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program. These programs advance beyond the desire to be an agency that is reflective of society, to actually creating opportunities for diverse youth and early professionals on the ground.

To do this, the Region’s Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program puts funding behind programs that educate youth with science curriculum such as Salmon in the Classroom, and offers paid internship opportunities to promising young professionals through the Conservation Career Experience, which partners with organizations such as MANNRS – Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences; American Conservation Experience; Hispanic Access Foundation, and others. 

This work creates exposure, gives guidance toward education and careers, and recruits interns who are equipped to do the job, while giving practical job experience and often paving a pathway to employment. This work is truly effective in broadening opportunities for people who traditionally may not have had them. 

“Find the people with the passion, find them early,” Gordon says. “This is why these internship programs are so critical. … Look at us. From entry level to foot out of the door, we have people of color doing the work. It's not a future state. We are doing it here and now.”

The Project:

This project highlights five U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Region employees who span from early career to near retirement – four of them in the Region’s Fish and Aquatic Conservation program and one who got her start as an FAC intern and landed a permanent job in the Office of Communications. 

You will learn about the unique life and career journeys of Judy Gordon, Dan Nehler, Nicole Hams, Rikeem Sholes, and Typhanie Shepherd. From Brooklyn, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; Puyallup, Wash.; New Orleans; and Lufkin, Texas – with backgrounds from fish biology to documentary filmmaking – they share common stories of being introduced to wildlife and conservation at an early age, both in real life and from nature shows on TV; finding key role models, mentors, and advocates along their educational and career paths; and following their passions to work in conservation.

In these stories, you not only will learn about the work they do to fulfill their passions toward conservation, fisheries, science, and outreach; but also what it was like at times to be the only person of color on a job, or the only woman in an office where she was not welcome; the experience of seeing another Black scientist as a role model or being that person for someone else; about the value of visibility and representation and the people who believed in them and encouraged them to follow their visions no matter what.

Their Stories:

Rikeem Sholes, fish biologist, sitting in an OHV
Meet Rikeem Sholes, a versatile, tech-savvy fish biologist who can implement quick solutions in the field and fly a drone to spy on salmon.

The Film: