Cassidy Williams, of Independence, Virginia, knew from a young age that animals — especially large mammals, were her passion.

As the wildlife conservation major prepares to graduate from Virginia Tech, she hopes to use that passion to help educate others on the importance of conserving these vital species.

When she was 10 years old, Williams and her family took a five-week, cross-country trip to visit multiple national parks. They saw elk, bison, and grizzly bears roaming the forests. She credits this experience with inspiring her love of large mammals.

“I started to understand the true value of wildlife, not just aesthetically but in terms of biodiversity and the impact on the environment,” she recalled.

Williams, who was home-schooled, transferred to Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment after completing some course work at her local community college.

“The goal was always to come to Virginia Tech and be in wildlife conservation,” Williams said.

She quickly embraced the campus culture, joining the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, the Wildlife Society, and enrolling in the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s Leadership Institute.

Williams took advantage of the university’s reputation as a research institution, completing two independent research projects in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

As a junior, she worked with Instructor Donald Linzey to determine if coyotes and bobcats in the Great Smoky Mountains were preying on feral hogs by analyzing scat from both predator species. In her senior year, she worked alongside Professor Marcella Kelly to determine the morphological differences in fawn and adult white-tailed deer hair.

In 2015, Williams also spent six weeks in Montana earning college credit through Swan Valley Connections, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting environmental conservation through experiential learning. She took courses on endangered species and the governmental policies surrounding them, the ecology of Montana, and a variety of conservation methods.

“This experience was basically the highlight of my whole life,” Williams said.

Williams credits her education from Virginia Tech with providing the scientific and leadership skills she needs to successfully enter the workforce.

“My independent research projects have given me a lot of opportunities within my field to be able to have a step up when I get out into the job market,” she said, “and the Leadership Institute really gave me the confidence to talk with professionals and feel like I could be in a leadership position.”

Williams plans to work for a year before beginning graduate school to study game species. Her dream job would be as a wildlife biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

“These types of agencies work directly with game species and set regulations, but they also work a lot with the public,” she said. “I enjoy educating people on wildlife management and why we use the practices we do.”

Williams, who grew up in an agricultural community, also hopes to one day educate farmers on the positive impact conservation practices can have on the environment and on their livelihood.

“I was raised on a farm and I realize how important agriculture is to our society,” she said. “You can’t live without food, but conservation is just as important. Often, farmers feel like their production is hindered by conservation acts, so I want to help farmers see that conservation can help work for the good of agriculture.”

Williams said that she will leave Virginia Tech with a heightened sense of purpose.

“It’s not about me,” she said. “Even though I’m the one getting the degree and entering the workforce, the reason I’m doing so is to serve others and to make the world a better place.”

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