DOINews: USFWS Recognizes 2013 Champions of Diversity

Last edited 09/05/2019

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service honored four 2013 Champions of Diversity this year at a ceremony Friday. Both the winners and the nominees have made valuable strides toward the Service's vision of inclusiveness at all levels.

Ron Wong
Ron Wong (left) with Deputy Regional Director Richard Hannan. Photo by USFWS.

Ron Wong of the Pacific Region won the Champion of Diversity Leadership Award for his work with veterans and students as manager of Quilcene National Fish Hatchery in Washington. Wong is an enthusiastic interpreter of the Fisheries program hosting many school groups at his facility. He works in close collaboration with the Tribal Fishery programs on the Olympic Peninsula and is an ardent supporter of outreach efforts to recruit Veterans and individuals with disabilities at military bases throughout the state.

Angela Okolie
Angela Okolie with Deputy Director Rowan Gould. Photo by LaVonda Walton, USFWS.

The 2013 Champion of Diversity Individual Award went to Angela Okolie, the chief technology officer of Ecological Services at HQ. Recently, Okolie developed and implemented Temporary Assignment Programs with the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services, and with Operation Warfighter (sponsored by the Department of Defense). She also mentors, trains, and works closely with some of the people that were hired through special hiring authorities for persons with disabilities.

Neesha Stellrecht and Aaron Martin
Neesha Stellrecht and Aaron Martin. Photo by USFWS.

Aaron Martin and Neesha Stellrecht of the Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Office in Alaska received the 2013 Champion of Diversity Group Award. Aaron, a supervisory fish and wildlife biologist in the Subsistence Fisheries Branch, and Neesha, a fish and wildlife biologist in the Endangered Species Branch, have reached out to Alaska Native youth through career fairs to interest diverse candidates in Service careers.

Individuals nominated for the Leadership Award have exhibited vision and execution in improving the Service's culture and initiated positive guidance in effecting that change.

Also nominated for the Leadership Award:

  • Nate Hawley, Career Awareness Branch chief at the National Conservation Training Center, was the driving force behind the development and execution of two Conservation Career Symposiums that brought together a diverse group of students interested in careers in the Service.
  • Cynthia Williams, Southeast Region Fisheries Program supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices and the Warm Springs Fish Technology and Fish Health Centers, has actively recruited minorities and persons with disabilities for positions within the Service. She has also served as chair of the American Fisheries Society's Hutton Committee since 2008. Hutton is a program designed to provide minority high school students with scholarships to work with a mentor in the field of Fisheries and encourage these high school students to attend college, majoring in a conservation science, such as biology.

Individuals and Groups inspire others in their program areas or in the field, present innovative ways to create a diverse and inclusive environment, have a positive influence on the region's culture and much more.

Also nominated for the Individual Award:

  • Margaret Byrne of the Northeast Region, the Fish and Wildlife Service assessment and restoration manager for the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration case. Byrne demonstrated outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion through her many efforts to highlight the challenges and hardships faced by, and the positive contributions of, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
  • Robyn Bortner of the Mountain-Prairie Region, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center. Bortner manages the captive breeding of all the ferrets at the center, serves as husbandry lead for the technicians, lives on-site to provide after-hours emergency care for the ferrets and helps coordinate ferrets for release with the other lead biologists at the center.
  • Steve Miller of the Alaska Region, fisheries biologist for the Kenai Fish and Wildlife Field Office. Miller was nominated for his work with the Yup'ik communities in western Alaska. He spends countless hours each year engaging the local communities on subsistence fishery and other conservation concerns in the region, many in an "unofficial" capacity around kitchen tables and campfires with local community members.
  • Akimi King of the Pacific-Southwest Region, fish and wildlife biologist, at the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office. For over 15 years, King has demonstrated outstanding commitment to the Director's Diversity and Inclusion Implementation/ Action Plan, by coordinating and pulling together a diverse group of federal natural resource agencies and various partners to host the annual Resources and People Camp. This program is a unique outreach opportunity to educate urban youth between the ages of 13 and 18, about the diverse natural resources that make up an ecosystem.
  • Noemi Perez, Nontraditional Stakeholders & Media director in the Office of Partnership Liaison in HQ External Affairs. Perez has worked to raise awareness, through news media coverage (including national minority-focused media outlets), of the Service's efforts and leadership in creating a more diverse workforce, and served as lead author and proactive proponent of a Service strategy to directly engage nontraditional partners (such as organizations representing racial and ethnic minorities and urban populations) in the conservation activities of the Service.

Also nominated for the Group Award:

  • Career Discovery Internship Program Mentors:
    • Midwest Region - Ann Marie Chapman, Vicki Sherry and Mary Stefanski
    • Southeast Region - Stephen Gard, Gisella Burgos, Kary Allen, Greg McGinty and Rolf 0lson
    • Northeast Region - Mao Lin, Monica Williams, Juancarlos Giese, Mariana Bergerson, Daffny Pitchford, Kofi Fynn-Aikins, and Karrie Schwaab
    • Alaska Region - Reneiase Bagsby, Lisa Hupp and Michelle Ostrowsk

CDIP mentees have typically not set foot in the Service before, nor are they culturally or ethnically represented in the Service ranks. Mentees do not know the Service culture, do not visually see people like them, may feel untrusted, and are learning new skills and new trades. Frequently working behind the scenes without much flash or fanfare, the mentor helps his or her mentee grow as a person and employee.

  • Division of Financial Operations in Denver, Colo.: Pauline Borquez, David Laveau and Pam Busch. After DOI Diversity Change Agent training, the team began scheduling "strategy" meetings where they discussed how to implement what they had learned. The team planned and scheduled the Denver Center's first Diversity meeting and has been holding them on a monthly basis.
  • Branch of Foreign Species, HQ Ecological Services: Janine Van Norman, Amy Brisendine, Ellen VanGelder, Emily Weller and Jessi Evans. The Branch of Foreign Species has been instrumental in developing a “Diversity Initiative for Organizational Excellence” for the Headquarters ES program. In the realm of decreasing budgets and a government-wide hiring freeze, the branch created an informal, unpaid internship program, designed to give students work experience, address increasing staff workloads and ensure that ES was meeting its diversity goals.

Submitted by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Feb. 5, 2014

Important Link:

oneINTERIOR Diversity page

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