Texas Tech University

Course Change Leads Non-Traditional Student Into the Great Wide Open

May 3, 2024

Course Change Leads Non-Traditional Student Into the Great Wide Open

Seth Hawke shifted majors and found a home chasing wildlife.

Like many high school graduates, Seth Hawke wasn't sure exactly what the next step in life would be for him when his days at Lubbock Monterey ended. 

College, at the time, didn't seem like the best fit. So, Hawke went to work, first at Tractor Supply for a few years and then on to Suddenlink. 

While both were learning experiences in their own way, neither was fulfilling, and Hawke wasn't content to work jobs that didn't bring joy. 

“I was a team leader at Tractor Supply and worked there for like three years,” Hawke said. “It wasn't what I wanted to do, but I just wasn't ready to go back to school yet. I always knew I wanted to go back to school at some point, but I just wasn't ready. 

“I was pretty angry at the world at the time. I had just come out of the closet, and I was pretty angry – I felt like I had been disadvantaged or something, I don't know – but it took me a couple of years to get over that.”

At 24, Hawke's mindset had changed. He had turned that youthful angst into something positive, a drive to build a better life. It finally felt like the right time to go to college. And, after learning customer service wasn't a long-term solution for him, he had a dream job in mind. 

Seth Hawke
Seth Hawke

Having grown up largely in Wyoming, Hawke and his mother moved to Lubbock right around the time he started high school. But the outdoors never stopped calling him. He wanted something that would put him back around nature. 

A creative and talented storyteller in his own right, Hawke's first thought was of National Geographic. 

“I also wanted to work in a wildlife-adjacent field and I've always loved writing,” Hawke explained. “My first goal was to work for NatGeo and be one of the writers that goes out and does the adventure stories. So, I was an English major when I first came to Texas Tech.”

With the beginning of a plan and a dream to chase, Hawke still had the tedious task of picking a minor to contend with. 

“Why not something to do with wildlife?” he thought, and off to the Google machine he went looking for something that interested him. 

What he found was something called the Department of Natural Resources Management

“I didn't really know what that was, to be honest,” Hawke said. “But then I kept digging and found the projects Dr. Conway's lab was working on.”

Warren Conway is the Bricker Endowed Chair in Wildlife Management in Natural Resources Management and the director of the Llano River Field Station. Through his internet sleuthing, Hawke found himself reading about projects that interested him.

One student was working with elk in the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains, others were chasing pronghorn in Capitan, New Mexico, or axis deer at Llano River Field Station in Junction. It was real wildlife field work, and Hawke was immediately intrigued. 

“I just kept looking at all the cool stuff they were doing,” Hawke explained. “I sat there and read for like an hour, looking at these projects. And I was like, ‘That's the guy I want to work with.' 

“The next day I went to my adviser and changed my major.”

Hawke had found his new path. 

It wasn't without challenges, of course. Chasing dreams never is. 

“The first college class I ever took, I was a nervous wreck,” Hawke explained, “because I was afraid that I would crash and burn or be judged for being an older student.” 

Coupled with the experience he had gained from being in the workforce for a few years, he set his mind to learning as much as possible in the wildlife field. Aside from classes, he got involved in organizations and took on extra work with wildlife researchers in the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources.

“What I learned working at Suddenlink is that a lot of people don't like Suddenlink, or at least when they call, they don't like you,” Hawke said. “I think back to those times when things are hard. It makes it a lot easier to deal with the stress of school.”

Hawke's involvement included working with Conway's group as part of broader collaborations with other students and colleagues from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Sul Ross State University's Borderlands Research Institute and Texas A&M University-Kingsville's Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. These existing collaborations provided Hawke with the opportunity to work on wildlife captures in the Panhandle, Hill Country and Trans Pecos. He was also able to complete an undergraduate research project on parasitology, help perform quality control and data management for a doctoral candidate, write a manuscript on bobcats, help with diet analysis for a master's student and attend professional conferences in Texas and Alaska. 

All of that while doing the normal work of an undergraduate student. 

“Once Seth transferred to NRM and reached out to us about potential experiential learning opportunities, he connected with Courtney Ramsey, our lab's research associate, who has been an exceptional mentor and professional guide for him,” Conway said. “He has consistently and continually done all the right things to set himself apart and establish his path for success in the wildlife field. 

“His ability to connect and take advantage of field experiences with existing partners in Texas and elsewhere is a testament to his personal maturity and dedication to his wildlife career.”

The student who described his younger self as an angry young man is now just days away from graduation, happy, and staring at a bright future as his 20s near their end.

This summer he has a position lined up to work as a research technician. In the fall, he'll start as a graduate student in the same department, though his project will take him a couple thousand miles from Lubbock. 

“This fall I'm starting my master's in Alaska on wolf movement,” Hawke said. “We don't have all the details fully worked out yet, but my understanding is I'll be up there four months out of the year, during the winter. 

“I've loved Alaska since I was a kid, and this is kind of a dream project that was basically winning the lottery.”

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