WESTFIELD – When Westfield State environmental science professor John McDonald joined the Wildlife Society his freshman year of college at a professor’s suggestion, he said he simply paid his dues and struggled to read the organization’s publications.
Now, McDonald’s involvement is a bit more extensive.
He was recently elected the future president of the Wildlife Society. Founded in 1937, the group has nearly 10,000 wildlife professionals as members.
“I was really surprised. Even though I’ve been involved in the organization for a long time and served as a representative to the governing council for six years and met a lot of people doing that, it’s still a very competitive thing. The other candidate was very well qualified and from the largest chapter,” McDonald said. “I kind of assumed I was just running for second place. It was a good surprise. It was hard to believe almost from being a freshman 30 years ago and not even understanding half the things in the publication to being president of the organization one day.”
The election process for the society decides the executive committee, and those elected rotate positions, eventually landing in the president’s chair.
McDonald was nominated by his peers and was chosen as one of two finalists nationally.
“It just kind of happened. People have to think you’re worth doing the job,” McDonald said. “The last few years I made an impression on people in our society. It’s not something people campaign for.”
Though McDonald did not necessarily campaign for the position, he said he is excited to have an opportunity to bring attention to the work the Wildlife Society does on a daily basis.
“It’d like to see us raise our public profile with the society at large. A lot of times people go into these fields because they don’t like to deal with people that much,” McDonald said with a laugh. “We’re a room full of introverts. That’s not always the case, but we don’t like to blow our own horn.”
Despite this, McDonald said the general public has an overall interest in the type of work the Wildlife Society does. The members, he said, range in what they work with, so there is something for everyone.
“Our folks do all kinds of interesting things. We have people who study blue whales to bumblebees to butterflies,” McDonald said. “People really care about that, whether it’s Cecil the lion or a squirrel causing a power outage, people care about wildlife.”
Serving as president is a chance for McDonald not only to help the society but also to help his students back at Westfield State. Joining a professional society helped McDonald network and build relationships in his field, and he said he has always tried to provide the same opportunity for his students.
“I like to expose our students to friends and colleagues doing the jobs that these kids want when they graduate. I try to bring in folks who work for state agencies to lead field trips and labs … They enjoy working with students. It’s really nice to have someone who thinks you something useful to say and to take a break from your routine,” he said. “It gives real world examples for the students to show them the value of networking, even though we’re in this Internet age, a lot of things are still done by word of mouth. The more people you know in the professional circle, the better off you are.”
For more information about the Wildlife Society, visit www.wildlife.org.