Lisa Shabenberger shares insights about what she has been doing since earning her Virginia Tech degrees, her fondest CNRE memory, the most amazing thing she did in the college, the professors who inspired her, and what advice she would give to her undergraduate self.

College of Natural Resources and Environment: What have you been doing since you graduated?

Lisa Schabenberger: After graduation, I worked for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division; was an educational facilitator for the Michigan Forest Resource Alliance; and served as communications director for the Michigan Association of Timbermen. During my three years in Michigan, I pieced together volunteer and part-time positions with these three employers to stay busy and employed. I learned the lessons of “get your foot in the door,” “work hard,” and “stretch your comfort zone,” and I was rewarded with exposure to different perspectives and realized that there is strength in flexibility.

I had the good fortune to move back to Blacksburg in 1999 with my husband Oliver M.S. ‘94, Ph.D. ‘95 to became the college’s first diversity enrollment management specialist. In this role, I had the privilege to meet, recruit, and become friends with many extraordinary students who went on to have amazing lives and careers in natural resources. That was the period in my career of which I am most proud.

Fate brought us to North Carolina and from 2004-2017, I served as program coordinator in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University. I had the opportunity to work with faculty, staff, students, and alumni. I felt that I had come full circle by building on my communications skills, deepening my respect for diversity, and helping students set, reach for, and accomplish their goals. 

In retirement, I have more time for my unpaid side jobs: volunteering at a food bank farm and an equine-assisted therapeutic program. I honored my “inner child” a few years ago by taking up horseback riding.

CNRE: What is your fondest memory?

Schabenberger: My fondest memory would be looking up at a Department of Forestry holiday party and meeting the man who would become my husband — pretty cool, right?

There is also this hilarious consequence of being a grad student helping in Shep Zedaker’s Forest Ecology field trip to Mount Rogers: running across my own winter scarf that I had lost along the way when I completed the same trip as an undergrad the year before. Either I got the transect right the first time, or I got it wrong both times.

CNRE: What is the most amazing thing that you did or learned?

Schabenberger: My summer internship in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife before my senior year was an amazing experience that still sticks with me to this day as something very special. I assisted a graduate student in her research of piping plover habitat suitability on New York barrier islands by conducting population surveys, locating nests, observing and recording parent and chick behavior, and much more.

There were some long, hot days, and some aspects of the job were less than glamorous. But, there were those mornings when I rode along the beach on my ATV as the sun rose, set up my spotting scope to observe these clever but comical birds, and thought to myself, “I am living a dream” with scenes straight out of my favorite show, “Wild Kingdom.”

CNRE: What professors inspired you?

Schabenberger: Jim Fraser (Fish and Wildlife) and Shep Zedaker (Forestry) taught, challenged, and encouraged me during both my undergrad and grad years. Without their knowledge and guidance, I would probably have not made it. I would not have had as much fun either!

William Smith, however, was the person who kept me from turning around and leaving after my first month at the university, guided me through my undergrad and grad years, and remains my greatest mentor to this day. I was a nontraditional student who was older than my classmates and had worked several years before returning to school. I found it hard to go from being a working adult to being a student again, but I could talk to Dr. Smith about my insecurities. He connected me to groups and to major-related jobs during semester breaks. I knew that he cared, and that drove me to keep on keeping on.

CNRE: If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would tell your undergraduate self?

Schabenberger: Look for work experience in your field of study as soon as possible. If possible, get a summer research job with a CNRE graduate student.