Student Spotlight: Jose Etchart

Jose Etchart’s parents came to the United States from their native Chihuahua, Mexico, for the same reason that has drawn immigrants to America for centuries.

“They were looking for a better future, for themselves and their family,” said Etchart. “Just trying to find the American dream.”

The young couple filed the necessary paperwork, obtained a green card, and moved to El Paso three years before Etchart was born. His father became an electrician, and his mother was a homemaker who raised Etchart and his sister. Etchart grew up in El Paso, but frequently traveled to Mexico to visit family.

“My mom’s family had a ranch, and I would visit every summer. We worked cattle and spent a lot of time on horses. My passion for horses and roping was how I ended up at Sul Ross State University for college.”

Etchart was part of the university’s ranch horse team and got a bachelor’s degree in animal science, becoming the first in his family to earn an advanced degree. He was contemplating a career as a veterinarian, but then he got introduced to the wildlife field by volunteering with the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University when he was a sophomore. That’s where he met Dr. Louis Harveson, who ended up hiring him as one of BRI’s first wildlife technicians.

“Dr. Harveson was one of my first career mentors, and he really took an interest in me. I loved the field experience I got as a technician, and it sparked my interest in the wildlife field. Now, I’m passionate about it.”

Along with his wildlife technician position at BRI, Etchart volunteered for every wildlife project he could. He helped with guzzler construction for bighorn sheep at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, conducted mule deer spotlight surveys with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists, and worked on several research projects where he helped trap and gather data on species including bighorn sheep, pronghorn, scaled quail, and mountain lions.

Those volunteer opportunities paid off when he was a senior, and he got his foot in the door in 2014 at TPWD when he was hired as a seasonal wildlife technician. About the same time, Dr. Harveson roped him into grad school. TPWD wildlife biologists kept their eye on him, and when a permanent position opened up in 2016, he was encouraged to apply. He was thrilled to accept a fulltime position with TPWD as a district biologist in December 2016. Since then, he has juggled a full-time job with his grad school studies and his thesis project.

“My research project evaluated water use and seasonal ranges of desert bighorn and aoudad in the Sierra Vieja Mountains, Presidio County. I defended my thesis earlier this year and I graduated in May 2021.”

A supportive environment at the Borderlands Research Institute helped him navigate through a very busy time, especially in 2018, when he got married. Dr. Harveson and many of his grad school colleagues attended the wedding.

“The camaraderie and sense of family is instilled in all of us, and I know I’ve made lifelong friends,” Etchart said.

As for his family back in El Paso, they could not be prouder of what their son has accomplished.

“All I did was follow through on what my parents taught me, to study hard and work hard and find something that I was passionate about. Thanks to Dr. Harveson, Dr. Gonzalez, and the Borderlands Research Institute, I’ve found my niche. I look forward to many years at TPWD and hope to work my way up the ranks there.”