Student Spotlight: Cullom Simpson

By the time Cullom Simpson was in middle school he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up.

“When I first met him, he was just a kid,” recalled retired Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist Rufus Stephens. “I had never met somebody at that age with that kind of passion for wildlife. He knew he wanted to be a wildlife biologist and he was willing to do anything to help him achieve that goal.”

Simpson grew up in a rural area of Boerne, Texas, close to San Antonio.

“I was an only child growing up out in the country,” said Simpson. “Naturally I was kind of drawn to the flora and the fauna that existed on my parents’ property. That led to volunteering at the Cibolo Nature Center, and I met several TPWD biologists, including Rufus. So, I started doing volunteer work for TPWD, too.”

Simpson helped with spotlight surveys and learned how to age white-tailed deer and collect Chronic Wasting Disease samples. He volunteered at several TPWD wildlife management areas and with TPWD biologists, doing everything from banding doves to trapping wild turkeys. Every new experience just underscored his love for wildlife biology and his determination to become a biologist. Rufus Stephens continued to mentor him, and encouraged him every step of the way.

“All the way through high school and into college, Cullom was all about getting as much experience and expanding his knowledge about the wildlife profession as much as he could,” said Stephens. “He really was an amazing kid.”

The summer before Simpson graduated from Tarleton State University, he worked as a research technician with the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch.

“I worked with Dr. Dale Rollins on a bobwhite translocation project,” said Simpson. “That really piqued my interest in working with collar data from the birds and vegetation data from the habitat they lived in. I wanted to learn more about that relationship.”

He graduated from Tarleton with a degree in Wildlife, Sustainability and Ecosystem Sciences in Spring 2016, and was accepted to grad school at the Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University in Fall 2016. His thesis project examined the influence of black-tailed prairie dogs on vegetation and cattle movement within the Marathon Basin in the Trans-Pecos.

When not attending class or gathering data for his project, Simpson worked a number of wildlife-related jobs, including several stints as a wildlife technician for TPWD. That renewed his determination to get a job at TPWD when he graduated, and he applied for several jobs.

“I kept telling him to be patient, that it can take some time,” said Stephens, who was a reference for him on several applications. “Not everybody can get the job they want right out of college.”

But Simpson’s determination and a resume filled with diverse wildlife-related experiences paid off, and Simpson recently accepted a full-time job as a wildlife biologist with TPWD.

“It was so great to hear that, and I am very proud of him,” said Stephens. “It’s always gratifying to see people that you have mentored blossom and see their careers become their own. He’s right at the beginning of that, and there are a lot of opportunities for him in the future.”

For Simpson, it’s a dream come true.

“It’s almost surreal,” said Simpson. “I can remember banding doves with Rufus at his house and he has been my lifelong mentor. He’s the one who really got me started with all this wildlife stuff, and I could not be more grateful for the opportunities. Now it’s come full circle, and I can’t wait to build my career at TPWD.”