Soft-spoken, yet radiating a quiet confidence, Melissa Half is on a mission. A natural resource specialist with the BLM-Billings Field Office, Melissa is reaching out to students and encouraging them to follow her lead.
“When I go to the colleges and talk about the opportunities available, I tell them [the students] we come from the same place,” says Melissa. “I want them to know they can succeed too.”
Melissa started with the BLM in 2001 through the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP). After a year, she was converted to the Student Career Employment Program (SCEP) as she continued her higher education.
It wasn’t her decision to join BLM, Melissa says. “I was pushed. I’m a procrastinator, but my advisor, Mari Eggers, kept after me and nudged me right into BLM’s student program.”
“I never even heard of BLM before I started working here, but now I’ve grown in both my confidence and my experience.” Melissa continues. “The nice thing about being a STEP or a SCEP is that everyone understands that you don’t have that experience at first. The whole office has shown me support. They helped me every step of the way.”
Melissa’s mentor, Larry Padden, range management specialist, encouraged her to ask questions and that was all she needed. “At first it was hard for me. I had to learn about a new culture and to make eye contact. But after awhile I was more comfortable. I asked as many questions as I could.” With a small smile, Melissa shares, “Now when I go home, I have to remind myself that showing respect is done differently than when I’m at work.”
There were many people who helped Melissa along the way, but two people really stand out in her mind: David Jaynes, with the BLM-Montana State Office, and Ken Hanify, a former BLM-Natural Resources Specialist. Hanify now volunteers with BLM in the summers.
“David was very supportive,” says Melissa. “He made me feel a part of the office right off the bat and was always willing to answer my questions. “Working with Ken was good too. He took me to the field as he completed oil and gas compliance and would ask me what I thought about the situation. Then he would explain what was going on and how the area could be rehabbed. To help me learn more, Ken would pull apart a small plant to show me how to identify it in the future.” Now Melissa wants to share what she has learned with others.
The story has a similar ring to it for Sara Whitney. Starting with BLM as a STEP in 2006, Sara was also converted to a SCEP. Also like Melissa, Sara didn’t know anything about the agency before finding out about the student program.
“I was searching the MSU Billings’ web site looking for job postings and found the BLM positions,” says Sara. “I remember thinking ‘Where and what is the BLM?’"
“I was amazed to learn there was so much to this agency,” says Sara. “My first job was in the public room. I learned so much just from listening to questions from the customers. It was really beneficial to start there.”
Sara encourages students to apply for openings. “BLM is great. Most people just think it is just about public lands, but there is much more than they realize. It has all of the big business aspects. There are tons of opportunities in this office from working in the field to working in finance or directly with the public,” Sara adds.
Looking to graduate with a BA in Marketing in May, Sara sees herself continuing with BLM for many years. “It is a great place to work,” says Sara. “The atmosphere of the organization is good and my co-workers are very supportive.”
Sara now works in Solid Minerals. Her mentor is Connie Schaff. “Connie is wonderful,” says Sara. “I can go to her for any question I have and she knows the answer or she knows where to find it. I’ve really learned a lot. I didn’t know there was so much about surface and subsurface ownership. I thought if someone owns the lands, they would naturally own the mineral estate. That’s not always the case.”
Many people have helped Sara as she has worked in her two different positions. “They have all been very supportive, says Sara. “Ed Hughes (Sara’s current supervisor), is really supportive,” Sara continues. “He is always checking on me to make sure I have everything I need and to see how my studies are going.
“This experience has been really good. I’m hoping other students have a chance to find out about what it is like to work with BLM. I’m looking forward to telling them what BLM is all about,” she concluded.