Breaking Concrete Blocks and Secret Sauces to a Fulfilling Career in Conservation

By Miranda Lorenc | April 17, 2024
Dr. Mamie Parker speaking at a special DEI seminar at USU

Utah State University’s Quinney College of Natural Resources hosted a special seminar this month featuring Dr. Mamie Parker, a professional fish and wildlife biologist, success coach, and consultant.

Dr. Parker described the ‘secret sauce’ that she uses when she is doubtful or afraid: to focus on the real problem, detach from your emotions, think about the outcome, seek advice, and keep looking ahead. This is the formula she uses—otherwise fear would keep her from doing the things she wanted, she said. If she had said no to the opportunities that came her way, she wouldn’t have had the experiences she had.

Dr. Parker spent a career as a biologist and senior executive as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chief of staff, assistant director of habitat conservation, and head of fisheries.. She’s known for her public speaking throughout the environmental community.

During the seminar, Dr. Parker stressed the importance of knowing and owning your impact on the world. She told the story of a trip to a National Wildlife Refuge years ago. She was walking along a trail with the regional team and noticed paper littered along the path. She started picking up the trash as she hiked. 

Years later, one of the regional managers on that trip mentioned how impactful that small, quiet act had on him and the rest of the group. He remembered noticing how, without her saying a word, others in the group also began picking up trash. The regional manager said he wanted to do so as well.

Small acts like that  can also be applied to allyship, she said. Dr. Parker described an experience from third grade in a newly integrated classroom within a very segregated culture.

About a month into this new school, Dr. Parker was sniffing—either from allergies or a cold, she said, and a girl named Paula thought she was crying. To help cheer her up, she offered Dr. Parker a piece of gum. That act of kindness did cheer her up, she said, because it gave her the sense of belonging.

The next day, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Paula came back and said that her mother told her if she played with Mamie, then June would play with Mamie, and if June played with Mamie, then Donner would play with Mamie, and if Donner played with Mamie, then everyone would play with Mamie. So they’d do that tomorrow.

“That was allyship,” Dr. Parker said, “and it worked.”

Dr. Parker saw it work over and over again, she said. Showing allyship fostered a sense of belonging, which was important, not only on the playground, but throughout her career.

Over the years, Dr. Parker said she experienced concrete barriers in the form of unconscious biases, isolationism, microaggressions, macroaggressions, sexism and racism.

“All of those things happened and they still happen,” she said. “They are still a part of who I am, but they are also what makes us stronger.”

And it isn’t always easy, dealing with these concrete barriers, she said. Some days, she doesn’t want to get up and go to another room where she is the only person of color there. But she also knows that there are those who are inspired by her work, so it’s important for her to keep going.

“Fear: false evidence appearing real,” she said. “It will paralyze you.”

Dr. Parker’s biggest piece of advice to students is to say yes to opportunities, even if they might not appear to align with your goals. 

“While life might be hard,” she said, “at this age, life is long, so you have lots of time to get it right.”

Dr. Mamie Parker taking a selfie with students before her seminar