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Rhonda Hurst received the SEAFWA Special Award.
Hilton Head, SC – Oct. 30, 2019 – The Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) presented Rhonda Hurst with a special recognition award at their annual meeting in Hilton Head, South Carolina this week. Hurst is the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC). She also serves as coordinator of the ODWC Wildlife Expo, one of the largest wildlife expos in the nation.
“Rhonda lives and breathes for sharing her love of the outdoors with friends, family and neighbors across Oklahoma,” said Chuck Sykes, SEAFWA President. “Throughout her career she has had a huge impact on the hunting and fishing landscape in Oklahoma, especially through her time as the state's Wildlife Expo Coordinator. We are very happy to present Rhonda with SEAFWA’s special recognition award.”
Hurst began her career with ODWC in 1992 as a secretary for the agency's Information and Education Division. She transferred to the agency's Wildlife Division in 1996 and was promoted to the role of Administrative Assistant in 1999. Since 2013, Hurst has served as Executive Assistant to the ODWC Director.
In 2005, Hurst took on the challenge of serving as ODWC's first Oklahoma Wildlife Expo Coordinator. That first expo unexpectedly drew more than 45,000 visitors. Under Rhonda's leadership the expo has become a key public relations and outreach event for ODWC with an annual attendance of between 40,000 and 60,000.
“I've had the privilege of working directly and daily with Rhonda over the past three years,” said ODWC Director J.D. Strong. “During that time, Rhonda has been an invaluable asset to me, the Department, and particularly in her role as our expo coordinator. She is the kind of person whose commitment to our outdoor heritage and lifestyle shines in everything she does.”
In addition to her duties with ODWC, Hurst is a certified hunter education instructor and certified National Bowhunter Education Foundation instructor. She has also served as an instructor for numerous workshops and programs designed to introduce others – especially women – to the outdoors. Among those are such programs as the Oklahoma and Texas Becoming an Outdoors Woman programs, Becoming an Archery and Bowhunting Enthusiast, Project Eagle Outdoors Woman, Outdoors Woman One-Day workshops and many more.
The Association’s special recognition awards are bestowed upon individuals who, in the state agency directors’ opinions, have served the association and made outstanding contributions toward wildlife and fisheries conservation, outdoor recreational engagement, and the natural resources professional community.
The Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) is an organization whose members are the state agencies with primary responsibility for management and protection of the fish and wildlife resources in 15 states, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. Member states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Hilton Head, SC – Oct. 30, 2019 – The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) has received the 2019 Diversity Outreach and Education Award from the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) at their annual meeting in Hilton Head, South Carolina this week. The Oklahoma agency was recognized for forging fruitful partnerships to introduce students from diverse backgrounds to the outdoors through fishing.
“At a time when young people in cities are increasingly disconnected from nature and the outdoors, especially those from diverse backgrounds who may lack access or opportunity for time in nature, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is providing a model for many other organizations facing similar challenges across our nation,” said J. D. Strong, ODWC Executive Director.
In 2017 the Department partnered with the Paul George Foundation to help introduce the Oklahoma Fishing in the Schools Program into more urban classrooms. In addition to being a professional basketball player (formerly with the Oklahoma City Thunder), George is also an avid angler. Since 2011, the Fishing in the Schools Program had recruited nearly 400 schools, and George saw a way to use this established platform to reach more diverse urban audiences.
The Department and the foundation picked 13 new schools in the Oklahoma City metro area to be part of the new PG13 fishing program. Teachers received training to teach the Fishing in the Schools Program in their classrooms. The 13 schools also received tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game from the Paul George Foundation—students got a chance at a ticket by writing essays on what they love about the outdoors. The partnership grew in 2018-2019, with the foundation providing $8,000 to cover transportation costs for participating schools.
Additionally many of those kids will have a new opportunity for fishing access, thanks to a partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Paul George Foundation, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Foundation and the City of Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. This partnership is leveraging $50,000 to build an accessible fishing dock for South Park Lake in Oklahoma City. This brand new dock will be open to the public free of charge and is within easy walking distance for neighborhood children. South Lake Park Lake is one of the official Close To Home Fishing Areas in municipalities around the state.
Most of the schools involved with the Fishing in the Schools Program were mainly rural. The partnership with the Paul George Foundation helped the program reach a broader and more diverse audience in an urban center. Oklahoma City school district students are 54 percent Hispanic, 22 percent African-American, 14 percent Caucasian and the rest Native American and Asian.
Many schools took advantage of the ODWC’s Arcadia Conservation Education Area in the northern part of the metro area. Students got to fish in the education pond and walk the three-quarter mile education trail where they learned about different habits and species they might find in Oklahoma.
The Department has since secured equipment grants for the 2019-2020 school year to add up to 40 new schools to the program in urban areas. This will help continue to grow and diversify the program, expanding from a fourth grade focus in recent years into higher grade levels up through 12th grade.
The SEAFWA annual Diversity and Inclusion Award allows member agencies to learn from best practices implemented by other agencies, creating benchmarks of progress toward developing more inclusion among wildlife agencies across America. More information is on the SEAFWA website.