Ducks Unlimited’s collegiate chapter program began in 1984 when the University of Texas at Austin chapter signed its charter. Today, there are 120 active college chapters across the country that helped raise over $1 million for wetlands conservation in 2018. The success of the college chapter program has stemmed from the hard work and dedication of thousands of young volunteers and the legacy they leave for their fellow students upon graduation. Fortunately, for most of them, their journey with Ducks Unlimited is just beginning.
Sam Wigand started his college career in 2010 at the University of Indiana. His passion for the outdoors and waterfowl led him to help start a collegiate chapter at the university his freshman year. He quickly realized that there is more to being involved with DU’s college chapter program than just being passionate about the outdoors.
“There is no better way to meet lifelong, like-minded friends during college than by joining a DU collegiate chapter,” Sam says.
In 2011, Sam transferred to Colorado State University (CSU), just months before the chapter he helped start held its first banquet in Bloomington. But as a young man of his word, Sam flew back to Indiana to support his fellow committee members and volunteers at the event.
Sam had the opportunity to join the CSU committee, which has been a historically strong member of DU’s collegiate chapter program. That year, however, the chapter was struggling. With the support of Sam and his fellow committee members, CSU DU bounced back in a big way.
This experience was as invaluable to Sam as it was to the ducks. “Volunteering on the CSU DU committee set me apart from my peers during job interviews, where I was able to explain that I had helped raise substantial money for a nonprofit organization that I was passionate about,” he explains.
Sam’s involvement with the CSU collegiate chapter not only helped prepare him for a career but also paved the way for him to one day chair the award-winning Denver Sponsor Gala. In 2014, Area Chairman Nate Farley had the idea of inviting CSU committee members to help with the gala. Sam and his fellow collegiate volunteers got to know the Denver committee and helped create a new network of support. Once Sam graduated from CSU and learned he would be working in the Denver area, it was an easy transition into the adult chapter. Sam served as live auction chair in 2016. And when the chapter-chair-in-waiting moved away in 2017, Sam’s number was called, and it was his turn to lead the top DU event in the country, raising more than $843,000 for wetlands and waterfowl conservation.
For some, this might have been an intimidating task. But for Sam, it was merely an extension of his years as a collegiate DU volunteer. “I quickly realized just how similar it is to run an $800,000 event in a big city compared to the $20,000 events we ran at CSU,” Sam says. “Being able to lead and to understand the system gave me the skill set I needed to chair the Denver Sponsor Gala.”