To fully understand Andrea Travnicek, you first have to understand where she comes from. This July will mark her sixth year as a senior policy advisor for the Governor of North Dakota. With her long list of academic degrees, laundry list of experience on her resume and energetic youth, she has been able to bring a fresh perspective to the Governor’s office.
Travnicek’s parents were from Northern Minnesota, but her upbringing was different than most. She graduated from Papillion La-Vista High School in Omaha, Neb. although, Nebraska isn’t necessarily home for this product of a military family. The daughter of a B-52 pilot bounced around from California to Texas during her childhood, and when it came to going away for college, she didn’t know where she’d see her parents next. But Travnicek knew there was a 50 percent chance they’d end up in Minot, N.D., or Louisiana.
Soccer was Travnicek’s first passion as a child. She’d been playing since she was 5, but realized in the college selection process that academics were at the top of her priority list. Unlike the millions of students about to graduate high school in 1997, Travnicek knew natural resources management would be her declared major.
The college decision came down to the University of Nebraska-Omaha, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Iowa State and NDSU.
“For some reason, I came and toured the NDSU campus and it just felt like home,” Travnicek said. “I grew up going to the lake a lot, being outside, being by the water. I knew I wanted to get into that type of field. The fact that they had that natural resources program and a soccer program it just felt right.”
Travnicek got involved immediately at NDSU. She found herself in the student-athlete advisory council, the natural resources management club, Blue Key Honor Society and even coached two years of soccer for the Fargo Shanley junior varsity team. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in 2001, Travnicek pursued her master’s in natural resources management with an emphasis in plant sciences.
Following the completion of her master’s in 2004, Travnicek got the opportunity to move to Washington DC and intern at Ducks Unlimited. DC proved too opulent for an intern, so Travnicek moved to Bismarck to begin working at an environmental consulting firm. But the time spent in DC, albeit short, was impactful in shaping Travnicek’s presumptive career path.
“After being in DC and realizing that besides the hard sciences, there’s this whole communication policy world that’s out there that helps drive a lot of the decisions,” Travnicek said. She referenced a new drive in her to go back to school to take her degree one step further.
Travnicek returned to NDSU to become the first doctoral student to achieve a Ph.D. in environmental communication.
From there, she spent the next year putting her degree to use with the Army Corps of Engineers in Sacramento, Calif., getting reps with environmental impact statements and getting her hands wet in other environmental projects. Soon after bolstering her resume even further, she decided to test the waters in policy making. So she applied for a position with then North Dakota Governor John Hoeven. She was hired as the senior policy advisor of natural resources and has advised the Governor on issues related to water, energy development, land management, emergency services, trade and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) over the past six years.
“I knew that I wanted to do something like this position I have today,” Travnicek said. “It was an opportunity I had to take. Although, I thought it would come later in life.”
Travnicek started working for Governor Hoeven in July 2010. She was barely 30.
“It’s one of those deals where the opportunity is there and you have to take a risk and jump. They pick you for a reason,” Travnicek said. “I could bring a lot of different backgrounds to the office because I had already worked for a nonprofit, worked for a private consulting firm, worked for the federal government and having a Ph.D.”
Those skills and experiences were put to the test less than a year after coming to office. Newly elected Governor Jack Dalrymple and the state of North Dakota underwent some of the biggest natural disasters in the summer of 2011. The Missouri River and Mouse River floods affected thousands of people in the Bismarck, Mandan and Minot region. Travnicek advised the Governor during that time.
“I was with the Governor traveling with him for 30 days in a row in the Blackhawk,” Travnicek said. “Here’s a community that was inundated with water, and I’m making sure that the Governor and the officials have the most up-to-date information so they can get that information out to the citizens that have been impacted.”
Not only was the disaster a major concern for Travnicek’s work life, it was becoming a personal struggle as well. The flood affected her parents and sister’s family in Minot. Today, because the 2011 floods continue to affect the citizens in the flooded cities, Travnicek continues to work with the Army Corps of Engineers, local officials, and water managers to create policies for future flood protection in the area.
Travnicek’s role extends beyond the North Dakota border. Since becoming a senior policy advisor, she’s had the opportunity to go to China twice, Singapore and Norway. Recently, Travnicek traveled to Israel with Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley to partner with Elbit Systems Ltd. and NDSU Extension Service together, to provide an UAS for agricultural research.
This summer, a UAS named Hermes 450 will collect imagery for a four-by-40-mile corridor in east-central North Dakota every two weeks during the growing season.
“The fact that we were able to meet with Elbit and now they’re coming over to North Dakota and doing a pilot study is huge,” Travnicek said. “Some of those impacts that you have, thinking worldly and broadly, having a little bit of a pulse on an opportunity by being involved with meetings that benefit North Dakota is what makes the job worthwhile.”
Benefiting the state by creating policies has satisfied Travnicek’s taste for making a difference in the community. Working in the public sector and being an appointed advisor for the Governor requires a lot of research, communication and relationship building. In order to identify solutions to complicated issues and to stay current on changing needs, Travnicek has had to rely on her Bison experiences to help her through complex situations and decision-making processes.
Travnicek played for four seasons on the NDSU women’s soccer team. “Park”, short for “Park Ranger,” as she was nicknamed by her teammates, played outside midfield for the Bison and logged numerous minutes on the field while she battled through three surgeries during her career. She tore her ACL her freshman season, was sidelined with a breathing disorder that restricted her lung capacity which required surgery, and had another knee surgery her junior year. Her love of the game and her teammates is what drove her to return to the pitch after each setback.
“I think what was big for me was to be able to get through all those (injuries). You have this adversity that is there from having these surgeries and overcoming them and still being a part of the team,” Travnicek said. “You’re trying to balance all of it, the academics, the soccer, then going through some of these life changes and different perspectives on things. I’d say those four years taught me about perseverance, drive, working together as a team, building other people up and support systems.”
Some of Travnicek’s fondest memories from her time spent on the field with her Bison teammates includes qualifying for the Division II NCAA Tournament in Kentucky in 1999. Travnicek also played her last collegiate game in the North Central Conference tournament in Omaha, Neb. where she grew up playing in junior high and high school.
With the gubernatorial election this November, there will be a newly elected leader in the state of North Dakota. The six-year advisor can’t say right now what that means for her future. The question now is if Travnicek will continue to serve at the hands of the Governor or explore her options in and around the private and public sectors.
“It’s hard to answer that, because how can you know? I am in an appointed position and I don’t know what people they are going to surround themselves with in the next administration,” Travnicek said. “That’s one of the—I don’t want to call it a risk with this job but you know going in that you’re not going to do this for the next 30 years, but hopefully I can say my time in this position has benefited people and the state of North Dakota.
“When I look at it, would I want to run for something some day? Maybe. Possibly. Most likely. Do I want to get involved in the private sector, do I want to get involved as a lobbyist, or live back in DC? That’s the tough part, those questions remain and they may all eventually happen at some point in my life. My time as a Bison has laid the foundation for those opportunities.”
Travnicek continues to be involved at NDSU through the NDSU Alumni Association Board of Directors. She has served on the board for the last three years and will serve another three-year term.
Travnicek will have a big decision to make in the coming months. In the meantime, she will continue working on whatever issue comes her way in the Governor’s office and serve the state of North Dakota to the best of her ability, knowing her drive, and the commitment that was instilled during her time at NDSU will always push her in the best possible direction.