I fell into all things creative writing at UM entirely by accident my sophomore year. In other words, I met Robert Stubblefield in a Gen Ed requirement writing class, found out we were from the same rural area in Oregon (he knew my cousin), and enrolled in Montana Writers Live! the next week. As it turns out, being a part of the Oval and taking Montana Writers Live! at the same time I was in an honors writing workshop was one of the most important things I could do with my time. Montana Writers Live! gave me opportunities to meet and ask questions of the people behind the words, and being a part of workshops and the Oval made sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, and learning the art of a well-considered critique second nature. I served on the Art Board my first year with the Oval and as Managing Editor my second. As a Political Science major with a minor in Wildlife Biology, I spent a good chunk of college listening to English Department and MFA students’ readings.
So what am I up to since my days at the Oval? Well, I graduated May 2015 with a master’s degree in Public Administration and a Certificate in Natural Resource Conflict Resolution from UM, and have found a job similar to one Stubblefield mentioned to me years ago. I am now the Project Coordinator for the Gilliam County Soil and Water Conservation District in eastern Oregon, and a free-lance writer for the non-profit Western Landowners Alliance. I’ve interviewed farmers in Oregon and traveled to southern Arizona to do interviews for articles about conservation issues ranchers face. As Project Coordinator I get to go check out creeks and fields, then write grants to help landowners protect their soil and water from erosion and pollution. These projects also create habitat in riparian areas for wildlife and endangered species. When grants are successful I help implement the plans, spending time out in the field with various agencies, farmers, and engineers. At the end of a project I write up a final report to the grantee in hopes they will award the district more money in the future to work in watersheds along the John Day River.
I never thought I’d get the chance to write for my supper full-time, especially right out of college, but that is exactly what’s happened. Part of what got me the jobs I have now was my experience as an editor with the Oval, lobbying ASUM for funds and being personable with people from all walks of life. These are things I learned to value through interaction with writers and readers in the Creative Writing program, time spent with talking with Stubblefield, and as part of the dynamic Oval staff.