Dakota Wesleyan grad Meza aiming for career in wildlife conservation

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By Erik Kaufman | The Mitchell Republic | Friday, May 7, 2021

Edgar Meza, a native of Spearfish, is set to graduate from Dakota Wesleyan University Sunday with a degree in wildlife management. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

Edgar Meza learned to love the outdoors at an early age.

A native of Spearfish, he experienced the wild beauty and nature of the state in the Black Hills, where his father worked as a logger and introduced his son to the joys of fishing and hunting. Meza developed a deep appreciation for the environment of South Dakota through those recreational experiences and helping his father during the summer.

What started as traditional father-son time eventually blossomed into something deeper, with Meza now set to graduate from Dakota Wesleyan University with a degree in wildlife management and ready to pursue a career as a state conservation officer.

Dakota Wesleyan will host a combined baccalaureate hooding ceremony and commencement for the Class of 2021 at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 9 at the Corn Palace. The ceremony will be streamed live.

“Growing up in Spearfish, it’s beautiful in the Black Hills. I spent a lot of time outdoors in the mountains and working with (my dad) in the summers,” Meza told the Mitchell Republic recently. “He got me involved in hunting and fishing, so I did a lot of that, and that’s the main reason I decided to get an education in wildlife management.”

His interest in nature drove much of his desire to continue his education after high school, but he was also looking to continue development of his soccer skills on the field. He looked for a school that could provide that combination, and had his first college experience at a junior college in Wyoming.

It was a good starting point for him. He was able to focus on his general studies and test the waters of playing college athletics, but he knew employers seeking conservation officers would prefer a four-year degree in a field emphasizing biology or wildlife.

That’s where Dakota Wesleyan came in. It fit the bill for his interests, he said.

“I applied to three different schools (after junior college). My two questions were, 'Do they have a wildlife management program and do they have a soccer program?'” Meza said. “And it got me thinking, if I go to DWU, I’d be a little closer to home, I’d be in state and they met my requirements for the degree and the soccer program. So let’s give it a shot. That’s how I got here, and I’m very glad I did.”

He got a challenge with both aspects. When it came to soccer, he found a dedicated, responsive group of coaches and a level of competition he had never participated in before. The skill level of the college athletes he was playing with and against was something he had not experienced, and it forced him to elevate his game.

“You have to rebuild and start somewhere and work your way up that ladder. Going from high school soccer to college soccer is a completely different experience,” Meza said. “I got to play against a higher level of competition, and I enjoyed it because it pushes you to your limits. It was a challenge, but they say challenges make life interesting, and when you overcome them, that’s what makes them meaningful.”

He found that same challenge he was looking for with academics. A degree in wildlife management requires substantial classes in the sciences. He noted the quality of his professors were encouraging, inspiring and active in his pursuit of his career.

And soon, a new challenge was before Meza. A professor asked him if he was interested in helping complete an internship study examining the effects of different colors of vertically-suspended structures on the growth of juvenile rainbow trout. He readily agreed, and over a summer found himself a mere 10 minutes from his family home conducting research and upkeep at the McNenny Fish Hatchery in Spearfish.

He and four others working on the project published their results in the October 2020 issue of the Open Journal of Animal Sciences.

Like squaring off against highly skilled athletes on the soccer field, Meza found himself overcoming a new challenge - scientific writing.

“I had written some science articles and papers for classes, but was never introduced to scientific writing, specifically on a research project,” Meza said.

The paper indicated that there was no apparent difference in the growth of rainbow trout based on the presence of colored or non-colored vertical structures, something that set them apart from other species of fish.

It was a satisfying way to begin his final year of college, he said. And now, he plans to take that experience, as well as the experience working with full-time colleagues at the Spearfish hatchery, and move on into a career as a conservation officer. Later this month, he has an interview for a conservation officer trainee position in Pierre.

His partners at the McNenny Fish Hatchery also appreciated him enough to let him know that they would love to have him back working with them until he finds his chance to jump into his career proper. Meza said if his first interview doesn’t pan out, he’ll be back working with his colleagues at the hatchery, at least until he can establish himself in the next phase of his life.

But he knows it wouldn’t have happened without his time at Dakota Wesleyan University.

“I’m very grateful for it. I’m very thankful to have met the professors I did along with my peers and staff members,” Meza said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. College is an awesome experience, I wish everybody could go through it, and I would recommend DWU to anyone.”


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