Alumna goes from Peace Corps to championing California conservancy
By Brian Hudgins
When Devina Schneider’s Peace Corps commitment in West Africa got cut short by the pandemic, a friend approached her with a possible new pursuit.
“I was in Guinea for 4½ months and we evacuated,” Schneider says. “I thought I would have two years to figure out (my next step). I moved to California.”
Schneider is a Houston native who earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from Texas State University in 2019. Today, she is employed with the Santa Clara River Conservancy (SCRC) as a restoration technician. Schneider works in Ventura County, west of Los Angeles, at one of the last natural rivers in the area. The nonprofit mostly works on both habitat restoration and invasive species removal. The Turtle Conservancy’s Southern Pacific Pond Turtle Conservation Program has been collaborating with the SCRC at the site of the Clenega Springs Ecological Reserve.
“We found a turtle breeding population on a site,” Schneider says. “I helped trap and record individual turtles. Hopefully they can use that for broad range habitat restoration. There are specific challenges here. Water drought is more of an issue here.”
The nature of the work has some similarities to the workload Schneider embraced at Texas State as a wildlife biology major and a student-athlete who excelled at track. “The wildlife biology program made me feel Texas State was well rounded,” Schneider says. “I enjoyed the STEM classes and I was able to apply what I had learned at the Freeman Center. I was able to do vegetation monitoring out in the field and do bird surveys.”
Schneider credited Dr. Scott Walker, a senior lecturer in the Department of Biology, as an influence during the handful of courses she took with him. “That had a big impact on me staying in wildlife biology,” she says. “Right after graduation, I did seasonal wildlife tech work before I started with the Peace Corps as an agroforestry volunteer.”
Schneider’s high school experiences in Houston gave her the background to compete as a middle-distance runner at Texas State. “In high school, it was mostly 5K races,” Schneider says. “I have a twin sister (Jahnavi) who I run with, and the coaches split us up. I started getting to five minutes in the mile consistently in my junior year of high school.”
That foundation gave Schneider the ability to compete in the Sun Belt Conference. She won a gold medal in 2017 in the steeplechase and followed that up in 2018 with a gold medal in the 3,000 meters at the Sun Belt Indoor Championship. She was also named Sun Belt first team in 2018. “The coaches at Texas State mostly used my mile times from high school (for evaluations),” Schneider says. “They offered for anyone to do the steeplechase. I had the Texas State University steeplechase record for a year, but then I lost it.”
That well-rounded atmosphere in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and as a student-athlete prompted Schneider to go from Houston to San Marcos — and gave her routes to travel to Africa and California. The Los Angeles area and Ventura County have provided new places to explore. “There is more public land in California, and this is an open-ended position, which makes it a good opportunity,” Schneider says. ★