BLM Colorado Celebrates Women's History Month
To celebrate Women's History Month, we are highlighting women in leadership who work for BLM Colorado. You can also follow along on our Facebook.
“It’s all about relationships,” said Acting BLM Colorado State Director Stephanie Connolly during an interview for Women’s History Month.
And relationships are something that Connolly has fostered during her more than 30 years of government service.
After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Forest Management, Connolly started her professional career as a volunteer. “I started as a GS-0…a volunteer wilderness ranger with the Eagle Ranger District in the White River National Forest,” said Connolly.
From that auspicious start, Connolly has held leadership positions with the Forest Service, Washoe County Parks and Recreation and the BLM culminating as the current BLM Colorado Acting State Director.
Thinking back over the course of her career, Connolly says that if she had a chance, she would advise her younger self to be patient.
“Don’t hurry through your career. Take time to embrace where you’re at…stay long enough to see how you contributed and not just accomplishments in public lands, but accomplishments in team dynamics as well,” said Connolly. “You miss out on some really good stuff if you don’t take time to embrace things along the way.”
What advice would Connolly give to young women and men who are just starting their careers?
“Make sure you are doing things you are passionate about…it’s a marathon and not a sprint,” said Connolly. “You’ll look back and reflect…be proud of what you did.”
When it comes to experiences that helped shape her leadership views, Connolly says all experiences play a role, but one job in particular stands out.
“Working as a project coordinator for the Washoe County Parks and Recreation gave me a powerful opportunity to demonstrate leadership while bringing partners together. Agencies trusted me to provide leadership to lead negotiations, attain consensus, and eventually gain public access to public lands,” said Connolly.
“Having incredible people encourage me, support me, and look out for me was invaluable,” said Connolly. “Every step of the way, I had a mentor...people who were honest with me and trusted that I would listen and grow.”
“Public lands, best idea ever,” said Connolly as her final parting words…aptly fitting her role as BLM Colorado’s Acting State Director.
According to Amelia Earhart, “the most effective way to do it, is to do it,” and that is exactly how Jen Bednar, the Deputy State Director for Support Services views work. “I dive in and tackle things to get them done,” said Bednar during a recent interview highlighting women leaders employed by BLM Colorado.
Upon completing her undergraduate degree at Saint Cloud State University, Bednar attended the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology completing her Master and Ph.D. degrees.
While working on her Masters, Bednar became a real-life scientist working for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as a hydrologist. It was at the USGS where Bednar began looking for a change.
“I took a position as an administrative officer to get some management experience and to better help my fellow scientists,” said Bednar.
When it comes to life advice, Bednar recommends not to be so reactive and take some time to think it out. “I have learned that with time, things tend to work themselves out. You can find better solutions if you have the time to be thoughtful about them.”
When it comes to advice to young men and women just starting their careers, Bednar stresses the importance of trying to find a work life balance. “Find something you love. If you can’t find a work life balance, at least do something you love.”
While at the USGS Bednar experienced a reorganization that taught her the most about working with people. “Change is hard on people. People don’t always behave as they normally would,” said Bednar. “It was hard to go through, but it was a meaningful experience and I met a lot of great people throughout the process.”
When it comes to working for the BLM, Bednar wanted to go back to her roots. “I wanted to be engaged with more technical positions,” said Bednar. “Also, being able to have a positive impact on people as well as being tested in new ways will help identify areas where I need to grow.”
“I am not done,” said Bednar. “I would like to move up to a higher leadership role.”
“Life is to be enjoyed and not just endured,” advises Ouida Cosey, the Equal Employment Manager for BLM Colorado.
Those are appropriate words of wisdom from a native Louisianian where Fat Tuesday is just a Tuesday except in Cajun country. “Growing up in Louisiana, my father would take us to family friendly Mardi Gras parades and even today I still get sentimental when Mardi Gras rolls around.”
“Union, Justice, and Confidence,” the Louisiana state motto is said to reflect the aspirations and ideals of its citizens, and it clearly befits Ouida’s journey. “I had an 8th grade science teacher that told the whole class to pick a career and present on their choice. I thought psychologist…that’s what I want to be.”
While Ouida’s undergraduate degree is in psychology, it was the chancellor at Southern University A&M who advised her to attend law school. After completing law school, Ouida had her sights on another adventure. “I knew I wanted to be a civil servant…it didn’t matter the level, but that was my goal. I believe in the mission of a civil servant…it’s a way to contribute to my country. I have a very strong belief in the value of being a civil servant.”
With a long career of government service, what advice would Ouida give to her younger self? “Be more willing to extend myself and take those leaps career wise.”
Ouida worked for the General Services Administration (GSA) for 22 years. While there, Ouida was able to advance her career, but she also wanted to branch out to other agencies. “The thing I love about being an EEO is that you get to learn about the organization and mission through the people and what they do.”
What advice would Ouida give to young men and woman who are just starting their careers? “I would give them the advice that I got when I started at GSA…invest fully in your Thrift Saving Plan. I would also recommend taking a retirement course every couple of years. Start as soon as you can so you can chart your journey. We are all working toward retirement. It may be a long way off, but you don’t want to lose sight of that journey.”
When it comes to leadership, Ouida says she learned her style while working with employees and managers. “The thing about being an EEO is that you are a neutral party. I am an advocate for the program.” Ouida’s role requires her to be proactive in talking to employees and managers. She works to analyze the dynamics between individuals and the organization as a whole so she can advise employees appropriately. Through her position, Ouida values all employees and has learned to be open to the different leadership styles she has encountered.
When it comes to taking on an assignment with the BLM, Ouida said she was looking for change, personal growth, and a new adventure. “I love being a federal employee. You have opportunities, and it’s ok to say there is more I would like to learn.”
As Associate District Manager for the Upper Colorado River Valley in Colorado, Erin Jones is responsible for helping manage one of BLM Colorado’s newest districts. Erin’s 21-year career at the BLM is full of diverse opportunities and an inspiring path that led her to step outside of her comfort zone. From seasonal to permanent, field to state office, and California to Colorado, she has pursued many opportunities and encourages others to do the same.
“I always wanted to be a wildlife biologist,” Erin explained. “But I took a chance and joined the NEPA team in California. I let go of what I thought I wanted and it led me into a field I loved.”
Erin started off her BLM career in California as a seasonal wildlife biologist in El Centro Field Office. She loved her work and had always wanted to spend her career working with wildlife. However, she eventually took a chance and applied for a detail as a Resource Management Planner. Although she never imagined a career in planning, she quickly realized she loved it. She was thrilled by her new role to balance our multiple-use mission to provide the best resources to the public. Her passion towards planning eventually led her to the California State Office where she led several projects in wind and solar energy development.
Erin continued her planning career all the way to Grand Junction, Colorado at one of our district offices. She naturally fell into the flow of work at the district level since she had previous experience from the field and state offices in California, a perspective that not everyone may achieve. One of her first projects in Colorado was the Greater Sage Grouse Environmental Impact Statement of 2015. Erin led this difficult project through her passion and natural ability to lead. This project was highly controversial and involved the perfect balance of protecting an endangered species while supporting stakeholders and the BLM’s multiple-use mission. In the end, Erin supported the agency mission and strengthened our relationships with our local communities and partners while protecting a very special bird.
In 2021, Erin was selected as Associate Field Manager for the Upper Colorado River District where she supports employees and strives to engage with her staff. “There is no such thing as bad experience,” said Erin. “Broaden your horizons and learn about your agency. If opportunity comes, take it and enjoy it.” As a woman in leadership, Erin is happy to have a seat at the leadership table to engage in decision-making and mold how we manage our public lands.
You may notice a theme with our featured women in leadership at BLM. Nearly all of them have stepped out of their comfort zone and have been able to pursue a diverse selection of careers, locations, and experiences at our organization. Our leaders strive to make opportunities available, but it takes strength and leadership within all of us to seek those opportunities. Follow Hilary and Erin’s advice – never “box” yourself in and pursue whatever opportunities arise!
When you think of land managers at BLM, who do you imagine? Strong, tough, intelligent women who have trained grizzly bears and jumped from airplanes into the wilderness should come to mind – But if they don’t, please meet Hilary Boyd! Hilary has spent the last eight years as a wildlife biologist and recently pursued a leadership position as the Assistant Field Manager for Resources in our Colorado River Valley Field Office. And yes – she really did train grizzly bears!
“Take time for adventure and travel, take risks while you’re young because it’s always harder the longer you wait,” advises Hilary to all the young people starting their careers. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, grow, and learn to lead from where you are.” Hilary cares deeply about the lands we manage in Colorado and throughout the United States. She took it upon herself to step up and apply to become the Assistant Field Manager as soon as the opportunity was available. She has had an extremely innovative, diverse career solving wildlife and resource management issues, so she is happy to have a seat at the leadership table and use her experiences to improve how we manage the public’s land.
At the BLM, Hilary has had an expansive career using animals as a tool for managing lands. Just last year, her idea to use goats for wildfire mitigation was featured in several news outlets including the Aspen Times, US News, the New York Times, and other media outlets throughout the U.S. Hilary realized that goats are the perfect animal to clear noxious weeds and brush that fuels large wildfires. By eating and removing undesirable vegetation, the goats remove fire hazards and create space for native plants to grow.
Hilary has also been involved with BLM’s new cattle management technique which involves virtual fencing. Similar to how dogs may be trained with shock collars, cows can also be fitted with similar gear which uses a GPS to determine the virtual fence boundaries. The collars are safer than traditional electric fences without the labor of building physical barriers to herd livestock. Ranchers can easily move their cattle to different grazing locations, which allows the environment to rest and regrow.
Leadership comes in many forms, but for Hilary, she learned to lead from nature. While in Denali National Park, Hilary was always on high alert and prepared to adapt to any situation. She was always innovating and finding new ways to keep visitors and wildlife safe, which is where her grizzly training came into play. She used her skills to lure grizzly’s away from crowds and used negative reinforcement to teach bears that humans aren’t so fun. Typically, Hilary and her team would lure the bears away from crowds using cracker shells or other distractions while also moving visitors away from the bears. There were also instances where if a bear had recently invaded a campsite, Hilary would set up a campsite to lure the bear and use cracker shells or bean bags to negatively reinforce that campsites are not meant for bears! Although it sounds awesome, this method is not effective in the lower 48 states, so do not try this at home!
To the young women out there, “Believe in yourself. Make mistakes and grow from those situations,” Hilary said. “When the opportunity comes, advance your career and become an advocate for other women and your field.”
Hilary received a Bachelor of Science from Colorado University before beginning her career with multiple seasonal opportunities. Her fondest memories come from working in Denali National Park in Alaska for seven years, but she also spent time in Yosemite and other national parks in the west. After many years of seasonal work, she decided to pursue her Master of Science at the University of Arizona. After finishing her degree, Hilary became a fire ecologist for the BLM, spent time raising her family, and returned to Colorado.
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