Young Alum of the Month: Nicky Williams

Nicky Williams
Title and Company: 
Soil Conservationist at USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Leon, IA
Major and Graduation Date: 
Forestry, May 2005
Major Job/Position Responsibilities: 

My main responsibility is to work cooperatively with agriculture producers to create conservation plans to conserve natural resources and address natural resource concerns. This includes everything from assisting producers with program enrollment, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Security Program (CSP), and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), to writing conservation plans for the crop ground at acceptable soil loss levels and recommending and establishing solutions to the producers' concerns.

I also assist technicians with the layout of conservation practices, such as waterways, terraces, ponds, and wetland areas. I design structures, lay out the design in the field, and inspect the project to ensure it has been built to NRCS specifications.

Another job responsibility is to increase public awareness of both NRCS and conservation. I have spoken on conservation tours, field demonstrations, and the radio. I have also spoken to high school classes and written a few newspaper articles. The best demonstration I ever gave was to an entire elementary school on Earth Day about agriculture and the prairie. Children can learn about conservation at a very young age - and it can make an impression on them.

What you like most about your job/position: 

The most rewarding aspect of my job is conserving natural resources for future generations. Every terrace, waterway, and filter strip can add up to a significant amount of conservation, even though each project itself is small.

Another aspect of my job that I like is the number of opportunities and partnerships the Iowa NRCS has to offer. The office I work in has federal employees, state employees, and district employees. Beyond our office, we work with several organizations and groups. The Department of Natural Resources, Pheasants Forever, and The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation are just a few of the groups we work with. There is always someone to answer any question for you.

As you can tell by my picture, I have the wonderful fortune to work outside. Granted, some days can be blistering hot or unbearably cold, but I get to go outside and play in the field. I love walking around in prairies, wetlands, and bean fields. Recently, the engineer in our area got a robotic total station for surveying. So surveying can be a blast, too!

What advice would you give to current students: 

The best advice I could ever offer to anyone entering the workforce is network, network, network. It is vital for professionals to be able to put a face to a name. I have found that contact with professional organizations is the best way to accomplish this. I joined the Society of American Foresters in school, attended several national conventions, and met professionals from all over the states - it was a great way to meet people. You can walk away with either a job or prospects for graduate school. Since school, I have joined the Soil and Water Conservation Society and I have continued to network. Not only is it a great way to meet supervisors and managers, but it's also a nice way to meet new friends.

If you have an idea of what you want as a career, look at some of the job requirements and take classes that can be helpful and informative in that position. For instance, I wish that I would have taken another soils class or an agronomy class. Also, stay updated on current events. It shows your employer (or future employer) that you are aware of the world around you and you can be prepared when things change. The last piece of advice I have for you is never burn bridges. You never know where you or past co-workers can end up. Sometimes you can learn the most from the worst boss.