December 9, 2021
When Rebecca Cavender isn’t helping administer ORISE research participation programs for a variety of federal agencies, she enjoys sharing her passion for the environment with the next generation.
In her spare time, the ORISE section manager volunteers as a Wildlife Judging instructor for the Anderson County (Tennessee) 4-H program. Cavender meets with students in fourth through 12th grade twice a month and teaches them about ecosystems, wildlife and plant identification, and wildlife management practices. In the spring, the students will put their knowledge of these areas to the test as they compete in county and regional competitions, with the goal of advancing to the state contest.
“I feel like I am doing something for these students that I wish I had when I was their age: teaching them about the environment and talking with them about future careers in wildlife studies—plus, it’s a lot of fun!” says Cavender, who holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Buffalo and a master’s in recreation management from the State University of New York College at Brockport.
Cavender is no stranger to environmental and wildlife education. After earning her master’s, she worked for two years as a field instructor for Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness in northern Georgia, teaching at-risk teens backpacking and wilderness survival skills. From there, she joined Reinhardt University’s student affairs office, teaching freshman seminars, managing the student leadership program and overseeing the Student Activities Council, which planned campus-wide events. She then took a job with the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians, serving as camp director. In this role, she managed the budget, hired and trained camp counselors, and oversaw the day-to-day operations of an overnight camping experience for up to 200 girls per week over the summer.
In 2016, Cavender joined the ORISE STEM Workforce Development team, starting out as a project manager supporting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service research participation program. In her current role as section manager, she oversees ORISE programs for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and the U.S. Forest Service. She also helps new programs become established, recently launching ORISE programs with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey.
“I love getting to know and help my sponsors and find ways to make their life easier,” she says of her favorite part of the job. “Customer service is very important to me, and I enjoy the problem-solving aspect to help our sponsors. I also work with a fantastic team! Even in a virtual world, we stay connected with each other on a daily basis. Finally, I strive to help others on my team learn and grow to be the best they can be—whether it’s to stay on the team or branch out to other areas of ORISE—growth is important.”
When she learned about the volunteer opportunity with 4-H, Cavender jumped at the chance to return to her roots in environmental education and support STEM in her local community. This aligns with ORISE’s focus as a Best in Class industry leader to “shape the future of science.”
“I think something that keeps people from volunteering is the thought that there is not enough time,” she says. “If you find something that really speaks to you and you are excited about it, it doesn’t seem like another commitment. Seeing the joy in the students’ faces and watching them when things we discuss in sessions ‘connect’ makes it worthwhile.”
The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asset that is dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination.
ORISE is managed by ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, for DOE’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.osti.gov.