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UW Outstanding Graduate to Work with Northeast Wyoming Landowners

September 15, 2016
head portrait of a woman
BJ Bender

Barbara Jean “BJ” Bender, originally from Lake Forest, Calif., has long been interested in agriculture and ranching.

Bender found her stride as a University of Wyoming undergraduate student, where she earned a double major in rangeland ecology and watershed management along with environment and natural resources, graduating last spring. Bender also minored in Spanish and completed the Honors Program.

Now, she’s preparing to start a career helping landowners conserve natural resources on private working lands in Wyoming.

As a UW student, in addition to her coursework, Bender gained field experience, participated in two study abroad programs and served for two years as president of the UW student Range Club.

“I really loved the hands-on experience I got with range,” she says, while the environment and natural resources double major helped her think about the policy side of natural resource management, and her studies in the Honors Program made her a more well-rounded thinker.

She traveled to Patagonia, Argentina, with UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources to learn about rangeland management strategies, and she went to India with the Department of Anthropology to study sustainable energy production.

“Both of my study abroad trips definitely changed my life and how I look at resource management,” she says. “They really opened my ‘idea bank’ up.”

two people on horses on ranchland

Before starting a career with the Natural Resource Conservation Service office in Buffalo, UW Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources Outstanding Graduate BJ Bender (right) is working as a ranch hand in Centennial. (BJ Bender Photo)

She won a prestigious Nielson Undergraduate Scholarship from the UW Center for Global Studies and School of Energy Resources, which funded a year of her college tuition and fees. As president of the Range Club, Bender attended Society for Range Management conferences, participated in academic competitions and met the scientists whose papers she was reading in her classes.

Following graduation last spring, the Haub School named Bender its 2016 Outstanding Graduate, recognizing her as an exceptional student who engaged in interdisciplinary environmental scholarship, service and community building.

Soon after, she interviewed for a rangeland manager position at the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office in Buffalo.

“It wasn’t hard to come up with the answers to their questions,” Bender says of the interview. Her applied coursework, dual major, honors, field experiences, awards and extracurricular activities as a UW student prepared her well, she adds. The NRCS hired her for the position, and she will start later this year.

Until her new job starts, Bender is working as a ranch hand, riding horses and moving cattle on the Hecht Creek Ranch outside Centennial. Once Bender begins at the NRCS office in Buffalo, she looks forward to working with landowners in several counties in northeast Wyoming. Her goals are to build strong relationships so that she can help people take advantage of the opportunities for resource management and conservation offered by the NRCS for their lands.

“I’m hoping I get to work with a lot of ranchers,” Bender says.

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