Class of '15
Maria Berkeland ’15 grew up with a deep love for nature and wildlife. Originally from Grand Rapids, she spent most of her life in Fairbanks, Alaska, after moving there at a young age.
Berkeland became interested in wildlife conservation and research after spending much of her childhood outdoors exploring Alaska’s unique landscape and wildlife.
“My family and I would often hike together and explore our surroundings,” she said. “Always being close to nature certainly strengthened my interest in studying wildlife.”
Her passion for wildlife and the outdoors, plus her family’s connection to northern Minnesota, led her to study biology and wildlife management at Bemidji State University.
As a student, she became increasingly involved with the campus community.
“I had a strong support system at BSU,” Berkeland said. “Not only in my academics but within student-driven programs as well.”
Berkeland was a member of BSU’s First-Year Residential Experience (FYRE) program her first year, which provides social and academic support to new students. Berkeland later tutored her peers as a Peer Academic Advisor for the FYRE program.
“The environment at BSU was nurturing,” Berkeland said. “With smaller class sizes, I felt I connected more with my classmates and instructors, which is not always the case at a larger university.”
After graduating from BSU, Berkeland began volunteering for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, both in northeastern Alaska. The refuges are managed to protect natural resources through observation and research.
“The opportunity to preserve the well-being of surrounding animals and their habitats motivated me to pursue a career in biology,” Berkeland said. “I was excited to experience this first-hand in the refuge service.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service selected Berkeland for a fellowship as she completed a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. Berkeland spent 11 weeks conducting research on arctic foxes in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Covering over 19.2 million acres, it is the nation’s largest wildlife refuge.
Today, Berkeland continues to work as a wildlife refuge specialist for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Berkeland’s daily work day varies widely and includes activities such as data collection, fieldwork and issuing permits to visitors.
“I like that I have a variety of activities to participate in every day,” she said. “My work also brings me to new areas that not many people get to explore.”
In November, Berkeland was invited to speak about her experiences in the field as a guest speaker for BSU’s Wildlife Society student chapter.
“It’s rewarding to give back to the community that helped me reach my goals,” Berkeland said. “I enjoy being a mentor for students to speak with.”