Strength in Diversity
Growing up on a farm in mid-Missouri, with a father who took me hunting and fishing, gave me a keen appreciation for the incredible diversity of natural resources in our state. I think this appreciation influenced my desire to work for the Department of Conservation, and I continually marvel at the variety of life that makes up our ecological system.
I like this “variety of life,” and it wasn’t until working for the Department that I came to understand this is the most straightforward definition of a very important conservation term—biological diversity. I know biological diversity is at the heart of ecosystem function and provides much of what is necessary to sustain human beings. Diverse ecosystems are stronger and more productive because they can withstand higher levels of stress and better adapt to change.
Because I work with the human resources side of the Department, I can easily translate the value of biological diversity to workforce diversity. According to the 2000 census, Missouri had a 12.9 percent minority population that was growing. Until 2025, the white population is projected to be the slowest-growing, while the Hispanic and Asian populations are projected to increase rapidly. It is a reminder of the importance we should place on cultural diversity issues.
The Department has a long-standing commitment to understanding the needs of Missouri citizens. Being stewards of Missouri’s fish, forest and wildlife carries a responsibility that goes beyond our mission of sustaining these natural resources. We must also inspire the public’s confidence in our ability to meet their needs, regardless of their backgrounds. A workforce that represents the unique cultural differences in our state is an important way of ensuring the public’s trust in our actions. Reaching out to various cultural groups through programs and activities is yet another.
I am very excited about the cultural diversity initiatives we have undertaken, many of which are a result of recommendations made by our internal Workforce Council (representatives of the council from various divisions of the Department are pictured above). The council assists the Department in designing diversity strategies that are in concert with our mission and objectives. The following are four strategies illustrating these efforts:
- Youth Conservation Corps hires youths to complete conservation work. Crew members range in age from 16 to 19. Many members are minorities. The majority of funding comes from a federal program and from partners such as the Division of Youth Services, Missouri Mentoring Partnership, East Missouri Action Agency and Lakes Country Rehabilitation Services.
- Matthews-Dickey Boys & Girls Summer Program is the largest boys and girls club in St. Louis, providing recreational, educational, cultural and leadership training to more than 40,000 youths annually. One of their many programs is a summer day camp for kids age 7 to 13, who are primarily from minority groups. The Department, through a partnership with the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), provides lesson plans for conservation-related field trips, which are conducted by UMSL student instructors.
- The Wyman Center Conservation Program encourages youths (grades 8–12) traditionally disconnected from the outdoors to gain a greater understanding of conservation careers and enhance their understanding of all outdoor recreational opportunities. The Department and the Wyman Center are working to improve the content and delivery of conservation programs at Wyman’s camps.
MDC Internship & Residency Program attracts students who might contribute to the Department’s workforce diversity. Internships are provided at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and emphasis is given to introducing top performers to the Department.
Whether the participants in these programs pursue careers in conservation or simply gain a greater understanding of how to conserve, manage and use our natural resources, a better relationship will exist. Differences must be embraced and valued, just like the diversity of each and every species.
Debbie Strobel, Human Resources Division Chief