A Career Rooted in a Love for Nature

Andrea Travnicek '01, '04, '08 is the recipient of the 2023 Horizon Award, which recognizes alumni who have graduated within the past 15 years and have attained great success in their profession or have been engaged in outstanding community service.

Story by Nicole Thom-Arens | March 21, 2023

Andrea Travnicek

Growing up, Andrea Travnicek ’01, ’04, ’08 and her family moved about every three years due to her dad’s role as a B-52 pilot with the U.S. Air Force. Born in Minot, North Dakota, Andrea lived in California, Texas, and Papillion, Nebraska, where she graduated from high school. When it came time to select a college, Andrea was drawn to NDSU, and while her career has taken her across the country, she keeps returning to North Dakota.

“NDSU is the feeling of home, and it’s the passion individuals have that continues to drive me,” Andrea said. “Because I was able to be involved in so many different opportunities, whether that was as a graduate student assistant or as a student at the undergrad level, there were always professors and researchers willing to listen and explain. It drove my passion for education, connecting with people, and natural resources.”

Despite frequent moves throughout her childhood, there were places close to NDSU that anchored Andrea: Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where her mom grew up; Thief River Falls, Minnesota, where her dad grew up; and a lake property on Union Lake south of Highway 2, near Erskine, Minnesota. These are also the places where Andrea’s love for natural resources was born.

“I chose my major because it goes back to those places I’d go growing up,” Andrea said. “I really enjoyed being at the lake in Minnesota and my grandmother’s place just north of Detroit Lakes — it has everything from pastureland to forest land to lakes. I just really enjoyed being out in the natural resources and thought, why not try to make a career of this?”

Andrea earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. from NDSU. When she came to NDSU as an undergraduate, she had the opportunity to play competitive soccer — her No. 1 love at the time. An early-career injury shifted her perspective; she learned how to lend her talents to other areas by being the heart of the team and the cheerleader for her teammates when she was sidelined at various times throughout her four years. Her injury also meant she could pour more energy into academic opportunities to broaden her experiences and grow her knowledge of the natural resources industry, which helped her build connections and led to career opportunities.

Andrea’s resume is long and filled with notable titles and significant responsibilities at the state and national level. She has worked for three North Dakota governors and for two different secretaries of the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., at top-level positions overseeing natural resource agencies that included the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. Andrea has led two cabinet-level agencies, including North Dakota Parks and Recreation, and currently serves as the first director of the North Dakota Department of Water Resources. Andrea reflects on the spectrum of her career with awe at how aspects of it have already come full circle.

“I’ve been fortunate to put together the building blocks of knowledge and experiences I gained at NDSU, and I’ve made connections and used them all the way up through my career so far,” Andrea said. “I worked on GIS [geographic information system] issues during my undergraduate and then I ended up chairing the federal geographic data committee at the top level in Washington, D.C., because I was overseeing the United States Geological Survey. I conducted research on land management and invasive species control at Theodore Roosevelt National Park for my master’s research, and then I had the opportunity to oversee the management of all the national parks across the country. Finally, my Ph.D. research in social network analysis and stakeholder analysis is applied in real time in decisions I make every day as I work with stakeholders with differing perspectives. NDSU definitely set the stage for the unique career I have been able to have so far. The possibilities have been endless and there is more to do.”

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