Before I started college, I had my heart set on becoming a fisheries biologist. I wanted to work with fish and have an office on the water. But on the advice of my parents, I kept exploring other options and discovered forestry. A family friend owns a timberland consulting business and I asked if I could talk to his forester to get an idea of what forestry was all about. After a short phone conversation, his forester decided the best way for me to get an understanding of the industry was to tag along with him for a day. I was skeptical at first but decided to go with him. As we rode to check on a logging crew he explained the basics of what he does and why he does it. I was given a crash course in land management and the tools and methods he uses on a day-to-day basis. He explained how forests were planted, thinned, and harvested in addition to how he collects the data needed to make informed decisions. We arrived at the property where the loggers were working and checked to make sure they were thinning the stand correctly. After we spoke with them, we checked on several other properties for a variety of reasons. At the end of the day he asked what I thought and I told him I had definitely enjoyed my day. He then asked if I wanted to come back the next day. I jumped at the opportunity and we spent the next day cruising timber. The following day he asked if I wanted to help their forest technician mark a thinning, and I again immediately said yes. I was very quickly falling in love with forestry. The idea of working outside was already appealing to me, but being able to work in the woods and help facilitate the growth of new forests was something I couldn’t resist. I was very surprised when I was asked if would want to work part time for them. I could not pass up the opportunity and have been working part time for them for the past couple of years. It was an easy decision to change me career path forestry and one that I have not regretted at all. I am now a senior at Warnell and I am going to graduate in the fall with a degree in Forestry. I am looking to pursue a career in land management and could not be more excited about it. It’s hard to believe that my career path completely changed all because I tagged along one day, but I couldn’t be any more grateful that it did.
It was sunny and 75 degrees in the second week of March and we needed to get away. It has already been a long semester and we could not have taken one more day sitting in a classroom so we packed our trucks and headed towards the coast for spring break. However, we ended up about 140 miles short of Panama City and arrived at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Center, a 29,000 acre longleaf-wiregrass paradise in beautiful South Georgia and it didn’t happen by accident. While most other students spent their spring break on a beach, we came to study fire under the instruction of the best burners in the world.
Throughout the week, we obtained invaluable knowledge from fire ecology experts from the Jones Center, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the US Forest Service, the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, and from professors at Warnell. We spent the first two days of the course learning about the longleaf ecosystem, fire behavior, smoke management, the effects of weather on fire, and how to plan out prescribed burns. This laid the groundwork for fueling up our drip torches and striking a match. On Wednesday morning we checked the weather, our fuel moisture, plotted our smoke and made the most important decision you can make when prescribed burning… it was the day we were going to strike a match. We loaded up into the vans, put on our Nomex suits, and grabbed the torches.
After arriving at the stand and checking the breaks one more time, we dropped a match to burn a test fire in a small patch to observe how the weather, fuel, and fire were going to interact. The wind was perfect as it was coming out of the north, which set up for a perfect backing fire. We commenced lighting flanks around the perimeter and stayed in communication with our teammates on the other side of the fire. After working the flanks up the breaks for about 100 yards, we made the trek across the stand to light strips heads and really got it rolling. We kept this ignition pattern going until there was enough fire to burn out the remainder of the stand. After the flames were out, we went back around the line to ensure no burning snags had fallen over the break and extinguished logs that were still burning on the edge of the stand. We had completed our first prescribed fire and put another notch on our belts.
Sure, I could have spent the week hanging out with friends on the lake or at the beach but I would have missed out on the best class that I have ever taken at Warnell. We obtained the kind of knowledge you can only learn in the field and from the best burners to step foot in our southern forests. If I can give one piece of advice as a senior, it would be to expand your horizons and put that next notch in your belt with actual field experience because you can’t learn everything from a textbook. In the words of the famous D.W. Brooks, it’s too late for “talk-teaching. Do-teaching will be a lot faster”. Learn from by doing any chance you get and never take a field experience for granted.
As a student in the Warnell School of Forestry School and Natural Resources, it is easy to become a bit biased in thinking our field is the best. However, it really is. How many people do you know that want to go to their cubicle on the weekend for fun? I don’t know about a cubicle, but my work place is fun, and even in my free time I manage to find a way back outside. I think pretty much all of the students in Warnell would say they do the same. It can be hard some weeks, though, with tests as we all get caught up inside studying nonstop. With finals right around the corner, here’s a list of ways I have taken time to work/have fun at the same time and you can too:
1.Camping & Hiking -Right here close to Athens, Georgia offers so many hiking and camping spots such as Panther Creek Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park, and even spots on the Appalachian Trail like Blood Mountain (10/10 would recommend). Just ask some people in your classes if they want to do a weekend trip and study outside. I’m sure if they are in Warnell, they will say yes. If not come find one of these cool people pictured here. There’s nothing like learning the bird calls in Vert while listening to the real things.
2.Rock Climbing- I actually just started this, and I am pretty bad, BUT it is so incredibly fun! Go with someone who knows what they are doing. It is so extremely exhausting that there is plenty of time to take breaks and study for that test you have coming up. There are great spots at Mount Yonah, which is super close to us! And if you are taking Soils, I can’t imagine a greater way to get up close and personal with granite and gneiss.
3.Herping- If you ask anyone in Warnell, I think they would agree that this has become one of everyone’s favorite hobbies. Sandy Creek Nature Park has some great spots to check out some little slimy critters like this one. Plus, who doesn’t want some extra credit in Herpetology!
4.Volunteering-You can volunteer in your free time at so many different places in Athens, but I definitely recommend checking out Bear Hollow Zoo and Sandy Creek Nature Center! I have volunteered at both of these places, and I know a couple people in Warnell who have or still currently volunteer here. In addition to it being fun, getting to be with animals, and being outside, you get great volunteer experience to put on your resume. Plus, you can meet great people at these places that would die to go on outdoor study adventures with you!
Every college student knows the struggle of staying awake and interested in a typical lecture-style classroom, no matter how exciting the course material may be. Sitting in the same seat for an hour, trying to keep your mind from wandering, keeping your head off the desk so you don’t doze off, we’ve all been there. However, not all college students have had the opportunity to experience a hands-on class where you actually practice what you’ve learned in a real-life scenario unless, of course, they’ve taken a Warnell class. Whether it be a three-hour lab or weekend long field trip, Warnell offers students the chance to put what they’ve learned in lecture into action.
“Today, we got a chance to practice safely immobilizing white-tailed deer.”
“We got to practice managing a prescribed fire in the woods today.”
“Our fisheries lab went electro-shocking in the river today.”
These are all typical things you would hear a Warnell student talking about; things that would make students in other majors say “You did WHAT?!” But Warnell classes are about much more than shocking our friends or getting course credit while exploring in the woods, they are about getting to practice skills we’ve learned about in lecture and, more importantly, invaluable skills that we, as natural resource professionals, will use for the rest of our careers. These skills and experiences that would normally take days of training at a new job or hundreds of dollars in a public workshop to learn are being taught to Warnell students free of additional cost. And nothing says “I’m a perfect candidate for this job position,” to employers like a graduate, fresh out of college, with a resume full of full of skills and field experience.
So, yes, it is fun to brag to your non-Warnellian friends about how you went and caught bats as part of a class field trip but it’s even more rewarding knowing that your school is preparing you for success in a competitive job market. Plus, getting to have class in the woods is always an added bonus!
That is how much time I will have spent in Warnell’s professional program. Those 628 days have been busy. 215 days spent in internships. 431 days in class. Countless hours in lab (Google can’t calculate that for me, shame). On May 5th, it will be over. I will cross the figurative finish line. And among all the stress of GREs, exams, job searching, guide dog raising, senior thesis, etc., etc., I find myself stressing over whether or not I’ve used all these days to the best of my ability. Did I take advantage of every opportunity?
To all of you incoming professional students, don’t give yourself room to question. Go to that Wednesday night meeting even though you had two test today and another tomorrow. Go to that networking event even though you’ll overanalyze every single thing you said in that one hour for the next two weeks of your life. Apply for that internship you aren’t 100% qualified for (you’re awesome, you got this). Try out for conclave (I promise you’re good at something). Study vert for one more hour (when you don’t mix up a mule deer antler with a white-tailed deer antler, you’ll thank me). Go to that conference. Try something you have never done before. Go on that crazy amazing field trip that sounds way too good to be true (I’m talking about you, Sapelo). Do all of this and not only will you have fewer regrets, you will walk away with things you didn’t expect. Great friends, better grades, more experiences and confidence, and a small part of your brain that now houses the scientific names for hundreds of species you’ll want to share with the world.
Despite my worry over whether or not the hours of my days were spent well, I know for a fact they were spent in the right place. I am thankful for the opportunities Warnell has provided, the internships I was honored to receive, the scholarships I was awarded, and the friends I gained along the way. The only reason I have room to wonder if I did enough is because Warnell has so much to offer, and so many things to fill the days with.
How will you spend your 628 days?
Our country’s population is growing more and more diverse every single day. As a reflection of our society, we must strive to seek and understand the need in promoting diversity and inclusiveness in the natural resources field.
The natural resources field has always been a tight-knit community that can easily get separated from the public. Because of this, our field is hidden and recruitment among minority students is often low. It can feel isolating. There are a lot of factors that come into play with low recruitment, but overall, we should commit to creating an inclusive environment to allow students to freely explore the natural resources field, and hopefully stay to find a career. Expanding access to the outdoors and environmental education for underrepresented and minority groups is one way to achieve this goal. This is especially significant when speaking on the importance of national and state parks. These public parks allow the general public to have access to outdoor recreation and enjoyment. If you do not have access to private land to explore, this is where the importance of public parks comes in. Another way to promote diversity in the science field is to provide mentoring and hands-on experience to youth. This can be done through outdoor sports, hunting, hiking, and even environmental education. Many of us can remember back to one specific moment or idol where our interest in the environment was ignited. For me, it was Steve Irwin and his engaging love for wildlife. By providing these moments for youth, we can act as those idols to allow their love of science to flourish.
We should embrace our all of our differences because diversity is essential for quality and productive teams. We know the importance of biodiversity in the environment, so why not should we strive for it within our own lives? We all approach the world differently, and often, having these different experiences allow us to see things in a different way from someone next to us. We need these challenging and polar views to question ourselves and what we believe to be true. At the same time, a student connecting with similar students helps find community when you might not see people like yourself around you. While this push for diversity can be constructive, we must be careful to not take this as a burden of task or filling niches. Instead, we should focus on widening our doors for all students, regardless of identity. When we are inclusive, we all benefit.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
— Maya Angelou
One essential and great component of the Warnell curriculum is a professional experience. It is a great chance to get out in the field and see what you can do with your degree, whether that be a Maymester or summer field course, or an internship experience. This summer, I got the chance to do both.
I realized in my first semester in Warnell I was either going to have to take a heavier load of classes during the school year or take a class over the summer. Luckily for me, Warnell offers a Maymester course about fish in the field. This course counts for the professional experience requirement and fulfills a needed class. It seemed too good not to take, so I did. I spent the next three weeks fishing everyday, whether it be seining, backpack or boat electro fishing, or using a rod and reel. We started out camping in the mountains, and learning about brightly colored stream fish in cold waters. We then stayed in Athens for the next week and ventured out everyday to go sample for local, warmwater species. For the last week, we go to the coast and were able to go into the marshes and beach to find marine species.
While we were on Maymester, I got a chance to also see what I would be doing for the summer. I was hired as a field technician for the Sturgeon lab, and from that I got a summer filled with new opportunities for learning skills that I would use for the rest of my life. I worked on a boat everyday, and got to do everything. I backed in trailers, drove the boats, set and pulled nets, mended nets, and was able to handle an endangered species. I was able to help monitor their population for recovery.
For some, the professional experience requirement is annoying and takes away from an easy summer. But for me, it was the most fun summer I have had. The summers that we get in college are limited, and while they may one of the last few times we get a “break” before we start a career, I urge you to make the most of them. There are so many options that Warnell offers, whether it’s through exciting Maymesters and summer classes or the job board that offers internships and jobs, taking these opportunities can tremendously help you get to know people in the field and acquire those skills needed for future jobs. They can also give you a chance to get away and experience something new for a while. You’ll never know until you get out there and try.