Staff Spotlight: Tonya Bernadt

Tonya Bernadt
Meet Tonya Bernadt, education and outreach specialist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.
February 28, 2022

About Tonya

My passion for nature and the living world started at a very young age. Growing up on an acreage in southwest Lancaster County gave me opportunities to experience the outdoors and all its wonders. From caring for our pets and admiring butterflies, to saving baby bunnies from the cats; I was always fascinated with the dynamics of the natural environment. As I grew up, my passion for the environment continued to grow and led me to wonderful opportunities. My first job out of college consisted of taking water samples from household wells and testing them for nitrates for the Lancaster County Health Department. From there I was given the opportunity to work in the university setting, the nonprofit sector and a corporate job at a recycling plant. Each of these jobs were very different in scope, but always had one thing in common: encouraging others to do what’s best to help preserve the environment for future generations.

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my husband and two kids. My husband Kyle recently started working at UNL too, so that’s been a fun change for him. My son and daughter keep us busy with their activities and shenanigans. At 7 and 10, they are becoming more independent and say/do the funniest things. We enjoy being outside, spending time with our family/friends, enjoying the pool and playing games. Although the kids and I would like to have ducks or cows, we are happy with Dixie, our two-year-old coonhound, Daisy the cat, our gecko and fish. Although there are plenty of mouths to feed around our house already, the kids and I are always hoping to get more animals.

What is your position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

I’ve been the education and outreach specialist at the National Drought Mitigation Center for 12 years. I am involved in many projects with the NDMC, and they may change depending on current funding sources. The best part of my work is interacting with stakeholders. We engage with state, federal and local entities across the United States and internationally to help them prepare for and lessen the impacts of drought events. My favorite part of the stakeholder engagement is working with farmers and ranchers. Their perspective and knowledge of the land always interests me, and I enjoy helping them work towards a more drought resilient future. Some of my current projects include overseeing the Southwest Drought Learning Network, working with Nebraska DNR to develop a drought-based scenario exercise for their stakeholders, assisting partners in the Caribbean with stakeholder engagement workshops, and preparing a three-state workshop for the USDA Northwest Climate Hub. I’m also looking forward to traveling again, I truly miss the interactions with our stakeholders and partners.

What drew you to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

I worked at UNL’s Environmental Health and Safety Department for four years in the early 2000’s. The positive work environment and camaraderie at UNL was a huge plus. When my funding ran out, I went to work at a corporate recycling plant. It was a whole different world in the corporate setting. While the experience was good for me, I hoped to be able to work at UNL again. Lucky for me, a friend of mine worked at the NDMC and was leaving for a different position, so I jumped at the chance to join the NDMC. Twelve years later and I’m still happy with that decision. We do a lot of good work/research at UNL. I’m proud to be a part of that.

What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?

The people. Like I mentioned above, working with our partners and stakeholders is interesting and rewarding for me. I’ve met so many wonderful people over the years and have a great network built up. Whether it’s USDA, NOAA, or farmers, all of them are great to work with. I’ve also participated in educational events for elementary students and ran a program focused on reducing one’s carbon footprint with adult community members. Each type of setting is different and interesting in its own way.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My children. They are smart, funny and completely unique. As a parent, you worry nonstop about them and wonder if they are going to do good in the world. I have no doubt that our kids are going to do great things. I look forward to what the future holds for them.

What is something that most people don't know about you?

I like watching monster truck competitions. It started when I was in high school and volunteered at Camp Quality (a summer camp for kids that have cancer). I took care of a 5-year-old boy during camp and became friends with his family. I drove to Missouri to visit them the next summer and his parents took me to a monster truck competition where we got to ride in Bigfoot.  Being in that big truck and driving over the top of cars was more fun than I anticipated, and I’ve like monster trucks ever since.

What is your life like outside of work?

When we aren’t running the kids around, we enjoy spending time on our acreage south of Lincoln. There is always something to do whether it’s walking by the creek, listening to the birds, or riding 4-wheelers. During the summer we have a large garden to care for and enjoy swimming. We’re also fortunate to have our parents close by and other family/friends near, so we try to spend time with them as often as possible too. If COVID has taught me anything, it’s that the little things really do matter and it’s important to stop and enjoy them while you can.

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