Best Job in Alaska
Shortly after graduating from Hastings College in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and speech communication, Charlotte (Higgins) Westing loaded her belongings in a U-Haul and headed “North to Alaska” to start work on her master’s degree at Alaska Pacific University.
“Grad school was a thrilling time for me,” Charlotte said. “I found the environment so stimulating, and I loved all the trail running … but, you have to watch out for moose!”
Charlotte’s thesis focused on wetland restoration from off-road vehicle damage. She graduated in 2002 with her master’s in Environmental Science. Her first job after graduating was with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in the Commercial Fisheries Division. She was a Fisheries Biologist in Dillingham for five years as the Assistant Area Manager for Western Bristol Bay.
In 2008, Charlotte accepted a position as the Assistant Area Manager based out of Kotzebue on the coast of northwest Alaska, about 40 miles north of the arctic circle, working for the division of wildlife conservation. The following summer, she was promoted to the Area Biologist. In her new position, Charlotte is responsible for the management of all non-caribou species the state manages in her area, which includes muskox, sheep, wolves, bears, moose and all furbearers.
“As far as field work goes, it’s probably about the best job in the state,” Charlotte said. “We engage in two large field work efforts to monitor the moose population and the composition of moose in the surrounding drainages. In early summer, we fly muskox surveys. Then, we go back in August with a helicopter and get composition information. Every July, we fly sheep surveys. My office manages the Western Arctic Caribou herd, which numbers over 350,000 animals. Much of our field schedule is devoted to them, from deploying radio collars to flying calving surveys. There is a lot to be done.”
Charlotte says, as part of her job, she’s often required to give presentations to Alaska’s Board of Game, a politically appointed group that makes decisions about wildlife management in the state.
“These presentations have made me really appreciate my speech communication degree and my experiences with the forensics team at Hastings College,” Charlotte said. “Professors Dr. Jessica Henry and Dr. John Perlich sure did a lot to prepare me for such things, and, on the biology side, my most influential professors were Dr. Beachly and Dr. Wilhelm.”
The real advantage of attending Hastings College, for Charlotte, was the opportunity to pursue two very different majors, biology and speech communication.
“I obviously use my biology skills every day, but a large part of what I do involves communicating with the public and my peers,” Charlotte said. “In fact, the main reason I got this job was because of my record of being able to work with diverse and conflicting user groups. So, classes I took in interpersonal communication, persuasion, debate, leadership in small groups, etc., were just as key for me as Ecology and Mammalogy. And, of course, it pays off that I am well practiced and trained in public speaking. At a lot of other schools, it would be much harder to pursue two unrelated majors, but, at HC, the professors were easy to work with, the schedule was easy to understand and everything fit into my four-year plan.”
Charlotte, an HC Who’s Who winner, says most of her favorite memories from Hastings College involve being on the cross country team, the forensics team and being a member of PHIVE-O. She loved being an RA in Taylor Hall, and her favorite class is a tie between Mammalogy with Dr. Wilhelm and Ecology with Dr. Beachly.
Charlotte’s husband, Lance, is a 2000 MAT graduate. He was an RA for Bronc Hall, co-captain of the cross country team and an officer for the Inter-Greek Council. He teaches high school science and coaches basketball and cross country.
“One favorite HC memory of mine is getting up in the morning to meet my boyfriend for a run and realizing I was falling in love. It’s corny, but true,” Charlotte said. “We’ll be married seven years in March. I wonder how many other couples shared their first kiss on the steps of Taylor Hall.”