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Engineering degree leads CWC alumna to a career with BLM

November 13, 2020 by Tori Stanek

portrait of Caitlin Heryford with her black lab dog

Caitlin Heryford started taking engineering classes at Central Wyoming College because she was looking for a challenging career that would allow her to make a difference. Today, Heryford is a petroleum engineer for the Bureau of Land Management and is grateful for the opportunity the college gave her to hone multiple interests.

“The time I spent at CWC let me explore and refine the duality of my creative and analytical mind,” she said. “I did so without accumulating a monstrous amount of debt.”

A two-time CWC graduate, Heryford earned her first degree in general studies in 2012. She said this happened almost by accident. 

“I had been taking a lot of different classes at the behest of my mother, who said I could not live in her basement unless I started college,” Heryford said. “I walked down to the mailbox one hot July afternoon and CWC had mailed me my graduation certificate. Turns out I had accumulated enough credits to obtain an associate degree in General Studies.”

Heryford spent two more years refining her interests at CWC. She graduated again in spring 2014. Heryford said her second degree, an Associate of Science in Engineering, was more intentional. 

“I really stepped up my game that time, gave the commencement speech and everything,” she said.

In her second run as a student, Heryford was named Wyoming’s New Century Scholar. She traveled to Washington D.C. with Dr. JoAnne McFarland, former CWC president, to represent CWC and the state. To earn this title, Heryford was the highest scoring student in the All-USA Academic Team/Coca-Cola All-State team competition. Judges considered the grades, leadership, and use of intellectual talent outside of the classroom of more than 1,700 applications from 900 community colleges. 

The award was well deserved for Heryford, who chose engineering for its difficulty and potential impact.

I wanted a career that was challenging, where I could make a difference. ”

Caitlin Heryford

While at CWC, Heryford made quite the impression on her calculus and differential equations instructor, Mike Bostick. 

“Caitlin was an amazing student,” he said. “She was one of the most motivated students I have ever had.”

Bostick was also impressed by Heryford’s engagement outside the classroom.

“Beyond academics, Caitlin brought wisdom and leadership experience,” he said. “She spent a year studying in the Czech Republic, two tears working at Outside In in Portland [a nonprofit support service for the housing insecure], and being the manager of Cowfish.”

Heryford said there were many teachers and fellow students who were instrumental in encouraging her along the way, including her chemistry teacher, Dr. Bill Finney.

“Dr. Finney had a sticker on the front of his desk that read ‘comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,’” Heryford said. “A mantra I continue to live by to this day. He taught with that certain charisma where anything would be interesting.”

Heryford also took photography classes from Lonnie Slack, both while she was an engineering student and after she earned her degree.

“I would have died without the darkroom, without some conduit for creativity,” she said.

Heryford presented a compilation of her photography work in a feature installment in the Robert A. Peck Gallery in the fall of 2019 and intends to build her own darkroom to continue the hobby. While developing her creative side, Heryford also earned her bachelor's in petroleum engineering from Montana Tech in Spring 2017, which allowed her to return to Lander to start her career. In 2019, Heryford moved again. This time, she went to North Dakota to work as a petroleum engineer. 

“I was scared to uproot my life, but the change has been profound both professionally and personally. The last year has been an education unto itself,” she said.

In her role in administering the federal government's oil and gas program, Heryford is involved with the entire life cycle of oil and gas wells.

“I review drainage cases, administer land agreements and work with inspection staff,” she said. 

Heryford’s job definitely poses the challenges she was seeking back when she was a student. 

“Being an engineer for the BLM is like being a drilling engineer, production engineer, reservoir engineer, landman, lawyer and economist all rolled into one,” she said. “I'm never bored, I learn new things and tackle interesting projects and cases every day.”

Heryford is grateful for having had the freedom to explore her interests and prepare for a challenging career while at CWC.

“I wish more people could have such an opportunity,” she said. “I was very lucky.”