Ryan Brown, executive director of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, was selected as the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s inaugural visiting executive under an initiative that seeks to bring professionals to campus to share their knowledge and experience with students and staff.

“The goal of this initiative is to bring accomplished professionals to campus so that they can engage with students, faculty, and staff, and help us develop or strengthen relationships,” explained Associate Dean Keith Goyne, who spearheaded the new program. “As Virginia Tech has a long-term relationship with the VDGIF and Ryan is relatively new to the position, he was a natural choice.”

Brown took on the lead position at the VDGIF six months ago, bringing a background in law and 10 years of experience with the agency to his new role. He noted that the relationship between his organization and Virginia Tech is a strong one and crucial in the organization’s mandate.

“Virginia Tech is a key partner with our organization,” said Brown, a native of Fluvanna County, Virginia. “A number of our employees are Virginia Tech graduates, and this college continues to produce very high-quality students who are well-versed in what we do as an organization. It is a distinct honor for me to be able to come and talk to the students here.”

Brown had a busy schedule while on campus, visiting classes in fish and wildlife conservation and participating in roundtable discussions with student leaders and graduate students. He toured the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation’s research facilities and gave a keynote presentation on the challenges that are central to wildlife management.

Professor Sarah Karpanty said that Brown’s visit was invigorating for the students in her Principles of Fish and Wildlife Management class.

“Mr. Brown kindled the students’ already existing passion for fish and wildlife conservation,” Karpanty said. “The students were excited to have the chance to ask questions, ranging from what his organization looks for in future employees to how they might work with the VDGIF to improve wildlife habitats. His presence both validated and energized our student’s efforts to pursue careers in wildlife management.”

For Brown, meeting with students was a chance to think about his agency’s challenges and opportunities in a new way.

“I love talking to students,” Brown explained. “As professionals, we tend to get siloed into our jobs. My agency’s mission is wildlife management, but there are a lot of challenges that come up that can distract from that mission. Here, in an academic setting, those barriers are removed, and we can talk about what it is we want to achieve and how we can get there, without those secondary distractions.”

Goyne anticipates hosting a visiting executive each semester and is reaching out to industry professionals in the fields that correlate with the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s four departments (geography, sustainable biomaterials, forest resources and environmental conservation, and fish and wildlife conservation). He noted that interaction with professionals gives students a chance to learn about what it takes to be a leader, while also providing an opportunity to ask practical questions about future job opportunities.

“I hope that our students take from the roundtable discussions with Mr. Brown a better understanding of what it means to be a leader,” Goyne said. “There is value in engaging with an individual running a state agency and asking questions about the challenges of that role, preparation for future employment opportunities, and how science is put into practice.”

Doctoral student Erin Heller, who led Brown’s roundtable discussion with graduate students, said that Brown’s visit is a useful preparation for entering the job market.

“These opportunities are critical to graduate students as we’re preparing the join the workforce,” Heller said. “Forming connections with these executives not only provides us with useful information regarding what the organization does but also with suggestions for employment preparedness.”

When asked what he wanted students to take away from their conversations with him, Brown stressed the importance of seizing opportunities as they arise and not being afraid to take risks.

“One point that I try to touch on with students is not to set boundaries,” Brown said. “Don’t wait your turn in life; don’t say you’re not qualified for this or that you have to wait for the time to be right. When an opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid to take advantage of it.”

Written by David Fleming