CSUS alumna spotlight: Alexis Hermiz
Alexis shares about her decision to attend MSU and her involvement in the CANR Alumni Association after graduation.
Building strong relationships and taking action has been Alexis Hermiz’s modus operandi since she started as an undergraduate at MSU in 2011.
She landed in the Department of Community Sustainability (formerly known as Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, or “CARRS”). Here, her passions and people skills led her to pursue a degree in Environmental Studies and Agriscience.
During her four years at MSU, Alexis honed her leadership abilities and agriculture and natural resources knowledge and put them to use in her many jobs and internships. Now, she’s applying what she learned in her role as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“Everybody eats and everyone needs fresh air. Everyone needs to recreate,” Alexis says. “It's not something that's exclusive for people with a certain amount of money or people with a certain skin color. These spaces are for all people to understand that we have a connection to nature. Improving access and equity in these spaces is my ultimate goal and what I'm passionate about.”
Read about Alexis’ experience as a former MSU student and current alumna below! This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Alexis Hermiz (formerly Horton)
B.S. Environmental Studies and Agriscience
(This major is now called Environmental Studies and Sustainability.)
Why did you choose MSU?
My decision to choose MSU was incredibly easy. I participated in pre-college programs in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). One was the ANR Institute for Multicultural Students (AIMS). I did that for one year back in 2008. It was a weeklong program where you got an understanding of CANR; I did tours, I got to see MSU farms and the labs on campus, and I learned about different courses and degrees.
I also did the Multicultural Apprenticeship Program (MAP) in the summers of 2009 and 2010. I got to intern on campus with a faculty member for six weeks. My first summer, I interned with the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems. The second year, I worked at the MSU Horticulture Gardens.
When it was time to apply for schools, because of those programs, I only applied to one school: MSU. Those pre-college programs allowed me to get to know a lot of faculty before I came on to campus.
The late Frances Kaneene was my academic advisor and I met her when I was in high school. It was nice because I had a close connection with someone on campus who was able to talk about courses and help me figure out my strengths and weaknesses. That was what drew me to MSU: the community feel of the department.
What were some activities you participated in as a student at MSU?
I was in Minorities in Agriculture and Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANNRS) for four years. I was president for two years and then vice president. The MSU chapter has grown and been so strong. I still connect with them along with National MANNRS. The MSU MANNRS chapter has been a really great source for talent and for opportunities to connect with other diverse student groups.
What did you do right after graduation?
As a student, I worked for Sparty’s and MSU Culinary Services. I did human resources (HR) on campus for three years, which was a really good opportunity for me to learn about different disciplines. I was responsible for scheduling about 400 students and I managed HR issues with students.
I got my student assistant position working at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) back in 2014. As a student assistant at the executive division, I focused on community outreach, education, and policy studies. I got a chance to shadow different people throughout the department and really connected with the Summer Youth Employment Program. It’s an engagement program for the cities of Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, and Saginaw. We fund nonprofit organizations to hire youth ages 16-19 so they can get natural resources and recreation career experience. I actually ran that program as a student assistant. After graduation, I transitioned into a full-time position with the DNR as a promotional assistant in the Parks and Recreation Division.
A lot of those students who participate in the Summer Youth Employment Program end up going to MSU or University of Michigan or other state colleges to major in environmental sciences or anything in the natural resources area. Connecting them back to the DNR for student assistant positions or shadowing opportunities has helped build a pathway for these students to seek employment within the field.
What is your current role as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer like?
Back in 2019, Governor Whitmer created two new executive directives: 2019-9 and 2019-10. Those executive directives called for the provision of an equity and inclusion officer. Our new DNR director had prioritized addressing the declining number of hunters and anglers within the DNR’s user base and increasing diversity within our user base and our workforce.
A lot of the work that I was doing as a promotional assistant with the Summer Youth Employment Program rolled into this new position. There are some new components as well. I do a lot more training and education and planning for the larger department. I don't just plan for the Parks and Recreation Division anymore.
I tell everybody is not my job to “do” diversity. A lot of people will argue that organizations don't need diversity officers, but you do need people to manage diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts just like any other priority effort or initiative. You need people to manage it, see it through, and provide some accountability. That's why these positions are so important.
I created our DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice) team last year. The team has 25 individuals who provide recommendations for this work and so they've been incredible. I have different perspectives than other people, so it's good to bring in a host of perspectives, people, and identities to really create something that will stick for our agency.
Who inspires you in your work?
Dr. Eunice Foster was my MANNRS advisor. She has done phenomenal things. I knew her since I was a MAP student in high school. Dr. Foster has always been someone I could look up. She always pushed for her MANNRS officers to be better, be more accountable. Dr. Foster has really been a great mentor and the most amazing role model. I've loved and respected her ever since I met her.
Dr. Leonard Savala was the former Director of Undergraduate Diversity in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He coordinated MAP and AIMS. He's been a really great mentor over the years and I loved working with him. When I got to college, I was a counselor and actually helped run those two programs that I used to be in during high school. I've known him since I started in those programs and when I came to college and adjusting to college life, it was nice to be able to have people there to support you and to have candid conversations with.
My former advisor Frances Kaneene was also amazing. She's the reason why I graduated. She helped a lot of students overcome the challenges that we had outside of the classroom, helped us with coursework, helped us with independent studies and finding the best fit. I'm terrible at math, and Frances would help me find a good math or stats professor. Frances really helped students push forward and find the balance in our undergraduate experience. I really miss her and I know that she was incredibly valuable to the students.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at MSU?
My favorite memory was from my freshman year. It was 2011 and Kirk Cousins was our quarterback. We were playing Wisconsin and I had tickets to the game, but I got strep throat and I couldn't go to the game.
I remember watching the game in my friend’s room. Our windows were open, and when Kirk Cousins threw the Hail Mary pass, we could hear Spartan Stadium go nuts all the way from the third floor of Hubbard Hall. It was like you were right there. It was the loudest I ever heard Spartan Stadium. Although I was sick, I was still able to celebrate. I'm a big Spartan football fanatic, so that was a really good memory.
How are you staying connected to MSU as an alumna?
I’m on the board for the CANR Alumni Association as the young alumni representative. I came on in 2016 and it's been a really good opportunity to give back in a different way, to learn about the college, and stay connected. Even if you're not on the Alumni Association, you can figure out ways you can stay connected to your department or to the college.
I wasn't able to give back monetarily when I first graduated. But I was able to speak to students, I was able to mentor students and do classroom presentations around career readiness or about my role in the DNR. I would just push for all future graduates to get activated and to figure out what type of alumni they want to be. I think that's one of the best ways to give back: time, connection, and relationships.
What is your advice for current students?
Now is probably the best time to make sure that students reach out and connect with folks. Put yourself out there, reach out to those contacts and networks, and those speakers that you have for your classes. Most of the speakers that I had in undergrad, I’ve worked with in some capacity in my professional space. I've been able to say, “Hi, I remember you as a speaker here.” That was actually how I got my internship, by connecting with the former director of the DNR. Although we may be learning from home and doing things remotely, this is still the time to be connected.
On top of connecting to your speakers, making sure you have a resume ready is really important. When I reach out or students contact me about positions at the DNR, I'll ask for a resume right away. Ask a professor or faculty advisor to look your resume over. Take advantage of the resources that we have on campus. MSU Career Services is still looking over resumes and doing mock interviews. Those are things I took advantage of as a student and they were incredibly helpful.