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Wildlife Biologist Aide, PA Game Commission

April Sperfslage is a wildlife biologist aide with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Her primary responsibilities are to coordinate and plan field work for white-tailed deer research. She leads the deer trapping crews in the winter and fawn capture crews in the summer. Winter duties include baiting and monitoring clover traps and rocket net sites on public and private land for the Deer-Forest Study. Summer duties include catching fawns for the Fawn Survival Study, using radio telemetry to monitor and obtain estimated fawn locations, and conducting mortality investigations. She also occasionally assists with bear trapping and repairing vegetation plot fences.

Degrees earned

A.S. Wildlife Technology, 2013
B.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Science, 2015

Q: What was your educational path to Penn State and to degree completion?

I graduated from West Branch Area High School in 2010. In high school, I was involved with the Penn State Upward Bound program. Through this organization, I attended a six-week summer program at Penn State, which opened my eyes to the opportunities available at the college.

I initially began pursuing general education courses for the Wildlife and Fisheries Science (WFS) degree at Penn State DuBois. I later learned that this campus offered an associate degree in Wildlife Technology (2WLT). After completing an Animal Identification course and speaking to two supportive instructors, I realized how much the program could benefit my career and future transition to University Park.

I transitioned into the 2WLT program at the beginning of my sophomore year and graduated in 2013. Subsequently, I continued working towards my bachelor’s degree in WFS. In 2014, I studied Wildlife Management at the School for Field Studies in Tanzania, Africa, for a semester. In spring 2015, I graduated with my degree in WFS and began a seasonal fawn capture position with the Pennsylvania Game Commission the day after graduation.

Q: What additional training or education have you completed since earning your baccalaureate degree?

  • Deer Aging Training (2015)—Required for collecting harvest data to monitor deer population trends.
  • First Aid, CPR, and AED Training (2016)—Essential guidance in identifying and responding to breathing, cardiac, and other health-related emergencies.
  • Vaginal Implant Transmitter (VIT) Insertion Training (2016)—A step-by-step training that goes through the necessary precautions and the process of VIT insertion. When the implanted device is expelled from a mature doe during the spring/summer, the device can potentially assist us in locating and capturing fawns for the Fawn Survival Study.
  • Chainsaw Safety Training (2016)—Training required to operate a chainsaw.
  • Wildlife Disease Surveillance (2016)—An overview and status report of current wildlife diseases in Pennsylvania.
  • Carfentanil Training (2016)—A required training to assist in immobilization of Rocky Mountain elk in Pennsylvania.

Q: What were some of your activities as a student?

Over the course of my time at Penn State, I was involved with The Wildlife Society, The Forestry Society, Penn State Eco Club, Tau Phi Delta Little Sister Program, Delta Mu Sigma Honor Society, The Blue and White Society, the Service Above Self Club, and the Certified Peer Educators Club. Each group had an important impact on my life, but the wildlife, forestry, and eco clubs are what impacted me the most. Through these groups, I gained close friends, increased professional development opportunities, and became aware of volunteer work and job openings.

Q: How did you get interested in the major you selected?

I spent much of my childhood playing outdoors and observing the critters in the woods. Whether I wanted to work as a veterinarian’s assistant or a wildlife biologist, I planned to dedicate my life to working with animals.

As a kid, I watched Steve Irwin’s The Crocodile Hunter on television. He taught me about the concept of wildlife conservation and this is how I learned what I truly wanted to do with the rest of my life. Also, a BBC documentary on biomes of the earth sparked my interested in diverse ecosystems. Goes to show you that what you see on TV can truly have an impact on your life.

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

I secured a work-study position at the Penn State Deer Research Center in spring 2015. I tried to work at the research center one year prior, but unfortunately, I was not offered a position; however, the following year I e-mailed the manager my resume and spring semester course schedule. Wouldn’t you know, after some thought, he e-mailed me back stating that he was going to offer the position to me. Persistence paid off!

During summer 2015, I was hired by the Pennsylvania Game Commission for a seasonal position on the Fawn Capture crew. I believe that already having deer handling experience set me apart from other candidates. When the Fawn Capture crew activities were about to wrap up at the end of the summer, our field crew leader announced to us that he had accepted a position out of the state. A week later, I spoke with my crew leader to let him know that I was still available if someone was needed to monitor the fawns while they searched for a candidate to fill his position. Soon after, I came back on the project to temporarily monitor the fawns. A week later, I was selected as the new deer research crew leader of the Southern Study Area.

Q: What did you like most about your major?

I enjoyed knowing that I could make a living by doing something that I love. Not many people can refer to nature as their office. Also, the WFS major is very diverse. With a WFS degree, there are opportunities to work as natural resource managers, teachers, information and education specialists, research scientists, zoologists, and much more. I like that I am not restricted to one career path.

In the classroom, I benefitted from gaining theoretical and practical experiences. Courses such as Ornithology, Wildlife Management Techniques, Silviculture, and others often had a lab component that helped to put the classroom material into perspective. Last but not least, I valued my passionate and unique instructors who created an interesting, yet challenging classroom environment.

Q: What’s something important you have learned from your work experience?

Through my work experience, I have learned the importance of having a flexible mindset while working in the field. Field conditions are extremely variable, which can often cause a field job or project to be unpredictable. A lot of things may change last minute and things do not always function as planned. It is important to keep an open mind.

Q: What advice do you have for current students?

  • Spend time volunteering and interning. Volunteering is crucial to gaining field experience for your resume and for meeting wildlife professionals. Volunteering and interning are excellent ways to become known and to learn of other opportunities or career paths available in the wildlife profession. Volunteering and interning can also help you narrow down the type of work you want to do with your WFS degree.
  • Further your education. Before completely calling it quits with schooling, consider whether your experience and degree(s) will be enough to get you to where you want to be with your career. Many wildlife professionals I have spoken with encourage young wildlife professionals to gain field experience after completing the bachelor’s degree. They also recommend completing at least a master’s degree after sufficient time working in the field.
  • Be open to travel. Your degree can take you anywhere. Upon graduation, I was anticipating having to leave the state for work and accepted that. However, it worked out that I am still nestled in the center of the state working with one of Pennsylvania’s most charismatic game species. This will not always be the case though, so it is important to keep an open mind when applying for positions. I am currently in a limited-term position, so while I can be somewhat settled for a period of time, I am still searching for jobs and trying to decide where I want to go next with my career or if I want to further my education.
  • Be flexible. Continuous change is normal in this field. Limited time and resources are also a common occurrence. Being flexible and maintaining a positive attitude are important to achieving career goals and will also help you grow as an individual.
  • Get to know your instructors. They will become some of your biggest fans and will encourage you to move forward with your education and career. They have also experienced many of the obstacles that we go through as young wildlife professionals, so they are full of ideas and advice. I owe much of my success today to the instructors who believed in me and challenged me inside and outside of the classroom.
  • Never give up. It’s a long road ahead, but you will love your job and it will improve your quality of life. If you are a driven individual, you will find an important place for yourself in this major. I may be slightly biased when I say that natural resource professionals are some of the most important people on the planet. Although some of the world seems to disagree, I happen to put our profession on a pedestal. Who else will look after the trees, plants, wildlife, water, and soil? The world would be a miserable place without biodiversity. That’s where we come in.