GRAND FORKS - Virginia Steinhaus DuBowy says she didn’t set out to blaze any trails in the fall of 1973, when she enrolled in the University of North Dakota’s Fisheries and Wildlife Biology program, the only female in a class of males.
“Absolutely not, because I never thought about that,” the Enderlin, N.D., native said. “When I got (to UND), people told me that usually women didn’t last in that major, that they would switch to something else. But it never intimidated me, and the guys that were in the class with me, they never thought it was weird or strange that there was a woman in the class trying to get a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology.
“That never even really crossed my mind. It’s just that I wanted to do it so I stuck with it.”
The first woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from UND’s Fisheries and Wildlife Biology program, the UND alumna today is chief of resources at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Wyoming.
DuBowy, a 1977 UND graduate, is the guest speaker for this year’s Glenn Allen Paur Memorial Seminar at UND. Her presentation, “Resource Management: What They Didn’t Teach Me in College,” is set for noon Friday, April 26, in Room 7 of the UND Education Building, 231 Centennial Drive.
The UND Chapter of The Wildlife Society and Biology Department host the seminar each year in memory of Glenn Allen Paur, a Pisek, N.D., native and UND biology student who died in a 1978 boating accident on Leech Lake while working on a research project just days after graduation.
By the time she graduated from UND, DuBowy says other female students had enrolled in the Fisheries and Wildlife Biology program. The major seemed like a natural fit, she says, given her lifelong interest in the outdoors.
“I didn’t mean to start anything; that wasn’t my intention,” DuBowy said in a phone interview from her office in Lovell, Wyo. “When I was a kid, there were no video games or anything like that. I just loved being outside. So I was outdoors as much as I could be, and I loved animals.
“And when I looked through the majors, Fisheries and Wildlife Biology was there, and I thought, that’s it, that’s what I want to do.”
As of February 2019, the Fisheries and Wildlife Biology major had 25 women and 31 men, according to Susan Ellis-Felege, associate professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management in the UND Biology Department and faculty advisor of the UND Wildlife Society chapter. That means 45 percent of the students in the major are women.
DuBowy says the road to her ultimate career goal as a National Park Service biologist took many twists and turns before she landed the Bighorn Canyon job in 2014.
She met her husband, Paul DuBowy, at UND while he was completing his master’s degree and spent a few years working various jobs when he pursued his doctorate, first at Michigan State University and later at the University of California-Davis.
“When he started teaching, we moved all around the country, and I would find jobs either at the universities we were at, as office manager or something like that,” she said. “I could type, so that was good.”
They spent a couple of years from the late 1990s through 2000 in Australia, where Paul DuBowy taught at the University of Newcastle; she worked in the natural sciences department.
In 2001, he got a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Miss., and the National Park Service hired her at Vicksburg National Military Park, where she became natural resources program manager.
“I fell in love with it,” she said. “Vicksburg is a Civil War battlefield, and I like Civil War history. That’s where I got into the interpretation. Like I told somebody, I said, once they got me into it, I said they couldn’t shut me up -- I loved it.”
The DuBowys less than two years ago established the Virginia Steinhaus DuBowy Endowment in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology at UND, a gift that included a $250,000 endowment and an annual scholarship of $1,000 to a junior or senior female student majoring in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology.
The first scholarship was awarded last spring, and UND will announce this year’s recipient during DuBowy’s visit.
They established a similar endowment in her husband’s name at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where Paul DeBowy got his bachelor’s degree, she says.
“We don’t have any kids, and we were just thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’” she said. “We both love the places where we graduated, and because of the fact I was the first woman graduate (in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology), we thought, let’s do something for junior and senior women in this program, and so that’s why we established the scholarship every year.
“And then the endowment, it’s just a good thing to do.”
As resource manager at Bighorn Canyon, DuBowy oversees a staff of five in the daily operations of the 120,000-acre Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, which has units in Montana and Wyoming. The recreation area includes a 70-mile-long fishing reservoir along with three marinas, boating, kayaking and several campgrounds; hunting for upland game birds and migratory waterfowl also is allowed in accordance with state and federal laws.
She doesn’t always get outside as much as she’d like, DuBowy says, but no two days are the same. The job requires her to know about everything from fish and game management to budgets and complying with federal regulations for every project that comes along.
She’ll share those insights during her upcoming UND lecture.
“You’ve got to have more knowledge than I assumed you were going to need when I was in school,” DuBowy said. “I’m going to try and point out that, OK, you take these classes for a purpose, but really, you’re working with more than animals or habitat. You’ve got to deal with people, you’ve got to deal with money, you’ve got to deal with all types of resources, and when I was in school, things like that I just wasn’t aware of and wasn’t taught.”
Fish and wildlife management is no longer a gender specific field, DuBowy says, but anyone interested in a career shouldn’t expect to land the perfect job right away.
“Obviously, I didn’t because I went for many years in office management positions before I actually got to be with the National Park Service as a natural resources person,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt to branch out and be diverse in a lot of things because it will eventually probably lead you back to where you want to be.
“If you’re really serious about it, then pursue it.”