When Erin Bellavia, 2008 Haywood Community College Fish and Wildlife Management Technology graduate, first came to the college, she was on a field trip with her high school Future Farmers of America Club. She had no idea what she wanted to do after high school but she did know that she didn’t want to leave home. It was on this field trip that Bellavia learned about the college’s Natural Resources Department and when she fell in love with the campus.

“I grew up in Mars Hill and spent a lot of time outdoors so the program at HCC ended up being a good fit,” Bellavia says.

While at HCC, Bellavia took advantage of the resources available to her by volunteering whenever possible. These opportunities lead to good networking contacts that students take with them when they leave the college.

“Nothing comes close to the quality of education I got at HCC” Bellavia explains. “The hands-on experience and volunteer opportunities that is available to students is invaluable and is a great networking tool. The enthusiasm and knowledge of instructors is what makes the program so successful. The instructors at HCC want to produce quality technicians that know what they are doing.” 

During her time at HCC, Bellavia started what was then called the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) and Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) through the United States Office of Personnel Management. According to its website, this program gives students the opportunity to work in agencies and explore Federal careers while still in school and while getting paid for the work performed. Students who successfully complete the program may be eligible for conversion to a permanent job in the civil service.

Bellavia began this experience as Office Automation Clerk for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in the Asheville Ecological Services Field Office. Her next position was in Refuge Management at the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Yazoo City, Mississippi before becoming a Wildlife Refuge Specialist there.

After finishing HCC, Bellavia attended the University of Tennessee where she finished in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science.

As a result of participating in the SCEP and STEP programs, Bellavia is now assistant manager at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. According to its website, the refuge objectives are to preserve and develop environmental resources; conserve the diversity of fish, wildlife, and their habitats; and develop outdoor recreation and interpretive education.

Bellavia says at the refuge, she is a jack-of-all-trades. She helps with purchasing, logistics, does field work with biologists, oversees interns, helps mark timber, and anything else that comes up.

“But my number one priority is forest management,” she says. “I am proud to have a small part in such a big job of managing this land.”

Now, Bellavia is also an adjunct natural resources faculty member at HCC. “I want students to take away an awareness of how complex wildlife management is and the role of state and federal agencies. I want these students to see how people fit in to all this.”