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Western Illinois University Biology Graduate Student Starts Program to Promote Diversity in Fisheries


MACOMB, IL – A Western Illinois University graduate student has launched an effort to bring diversity to fisheries science, while raising money for a related scholarship program at the same time.

Cassidy Miles, a biology graduate student from Saint Ann, MO, noticed last year that there was little diversity at the annual gathering of scientists by The Wildlife Society (TWS) and the American Fisheries Society (AFS). The gathering inspired her to create a pin to promote diversity, inclusion and equality in fisheries.

Miles is the public relations officer and outreach coordinator for WIU’s chapter of the Illinois AFS. She brought the idea to the chapter, which quickly jumped on-board to use the balance of the club’s funds to make the pins and cover shipping costs.

“I contacted an Arkansas tattoo artist on Instagram (@drewlr) and he brought my idea to life,” said Miles. “The pin has a bluegill, with the more inclusive pride flag inside of it and ‘OUTDOORS IS FOR EVERYONE’ surrounding the fish.”

WIU graduate student Cassidy Miles

Five hundred pins were sold online in a day and a half, which has already resulted in the donation of $1,020 to the AFS’ Hutton Program, which provides paid summer internships to students from underrepresented groups to gain research and field experience from a mentor. A website has now been created with additional merchandise for sale, including can coolers, travel mugs, stickers and a tote bag.

“My goal is to make AFS more diverse and inclusive because ‘Outdoors is for Everyone,’” said Miles. “We need to make sure folks from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer+ (LGBTQ+) community and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) feel included and safe in natural places and work spaces.”

Miles is a student of James Lamer, the former station manager of WIU’s Alice L. Kibbe Life Science Station near Warsaw, IL. Lamer is now director of the Illinois River Biological Station in Havana, IL.

“Cassidy is an excellent student and leader, a passionate researcher and a wonderful human being,” said Lamer. “I consider myself fortunate to work with Cassidy, and I am very proud of her commitment to diversity and inclusion in the aquatic sciences.”

While at WIU, Miles has been awarded the American Fisheries Society Equal Opportunity Section travel award, 2019; the Illinois AFS travel award, January 2020; the Illinois AFS Larry Larrimore Research Award 2020; and was a Midwest Fish and Wildlife Fenske Finalist 2020.

Miles is also trying to start a group for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC members of AFS and is on the planning committee for the Equal Opportunity Section Day for the 2020 AFS virtual conference in September. She said the Hutton Program provides 10-20 internships per year, but has 200-250 applications.

“It would be awesome if every qualified youth that applied could participate,” she said. “Making our society more diverse starts with young future members. All youth should know they have the opportunity to work in this field.”

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