Like any semi-responsible member of society, I like to keep up with current events through different news platforms. Recently, however, it’s become harder for me to want to stay informed because it is as if I see more negative news than positive. I often find myself, like many others, feeling helpless in today’s political climate. There is so much going on that is simply out of my control. There’s been rollbacks on the Endangered Species Act, the EPA is shrinking, and worst of all, we now have 12 years to limit climate change. Sure, we can all make small changes that will help, like recycling and limiting our use of single-use plastics, but it never feels like enough. Nevertheless, throughout my time in Warnell, and especially through the many different people I have met, I haven’t lost hope. That’s because everyone here has one thing in common: we all want to make a difference in the world. Every time you ask someone in Warnell why they joined their perspective program, they can usually point out a problem in today’s society that they are passionate about, whether it be saving a certain species from the brink of extinction, getting more kids outdoors and excited about the environment, or conserving clean water for future generations, and everything in between. In reality, we may not all get to make the next great discovery that will save the world and stop global warming, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to dream big. Be that as it may, I still believe that everyone here is so driven and cares so much for the issues that affect the field of natural resources, that through our combined efforts, we will leave a lasting impact that will change the world for the better.
The night before I left for my trip to Africa this summer, I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep. I was absolutely terrified that I had no idea what I was getting myself into- what if I got half way across the world and was so homesick that I couldn’t function? What if something happened and I was too far away from my family to get help? All of the thoughts that were racing through my head felt debilitating, but I knew that no matter how afraid I was, I still had to wake up and get on a plane.
When my parents dropped me off at the airport, I met up with a friend that was also going on the trip and we walked through security together. I could tell that she was also nervous, and we both cried when our families left. What we didn’t realize in that moment was that the next 30 days were going to be some of the greatest of our lives- my experience in Africa ended up being the most eye-opening, life-changing thing that I have ever experienced. I stood 50 feet from some of the largest, most beautiful big game species in the world. I witnessed the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen and I hiked up mountains at sunrise. I played with children in a rural village in Botswana and I loved and laughed with some of the greatest friends that I will ever have.
The bottom line is this: the fear that I had about being so far from home ended up being nothing compared the experience that was ahead of me.
The lesson that I learned is one that I feel is important for everybody to learn while they are young. There are many clichés about the benefits of doing things that scare you, but you don’t really understand until you are in the situation. Looking back, some of the greatest choices that I have ever made have required me to overcome a fear. I would have missed out on a lot of joy and a lot of learning experiences if I had always let my reservations make choices for me.
College and the years that shortly follow are filled with hard decisions and fear of the unknown that can be crippling. From the very beginning of our college experience when we choose a school and move from places that we have always considered home, we begin a long journey of uncertainty that leads us through many difficult situations that often don’t have “right” answers. It is easy to let feelings of fear hold you back, but the truth is that some of the greatest experiences are the aftermath of uncertainty.
If I could give young adults one piece of advice to carry with them throughout their lives: do things that scare you and do them with confidence. Take that class that sounds like it will be hard. Go on that trip that makes you nervous to be away from home. Form relationships that intimidate you. Make hard decisions to let people go. Apply to schools that are out of your comfort zone. Apply for jobs that you’re not sure you can get. In the end, you will grow infinitely from stepping outside of your comfort zone.
Some of the best advice I have ever received is as follows: Take every possible opportunity to travel, network, volunteer, learn, etc. that you can as an undergrad. It will expand your horizons indefinitely, make you a more effective natural resource conservationist, and ultimately make you a better person. Every new door, when approached with a willingness to work hard and learn, will subsequently open another. You will end up learning more about yourself than anyone else could ever tell you, and you may discover that your true passions differ from what you initially thought.
When I first entered Warnell, I envisioned myself graduating as soon as possible and pursuing a field biologist job with Georgia DNR. I thought I would stay in Georgia for the rest of my life as I progressed through a career in forestry and wildlife; at the very least I thought I would stay in the southeast. I was perfectly happy here, and really did not understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else.
In stark contrast to my original plans, I spent the summer working for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, am planning to attend graduate school at Colorado State University and am ultimately working towards a wildlife research career in the Western US. However, I would likely have very different plans if I had not gotten involved in the ways I did. For example, being involved in the Wildlife Society led me to experience New Mexico, Louisiana, and Ohio for the first time. My boss in Colorado was heavily involved with TWS while he was in school, and that was one thing we discussed when I was interviewed. Working at the Deer Barn paved my path to Colorado, as it was through the deer barn that I first experienced Colorado. Optional Study Abroad and Maymester classes created some of the best friendships I have.
No one looks back on their formative college years and thinks “I wish I had been less involved, networked with fewer people, learned fewer things, and visited fewer places.” I’m not promising that you will experience an extreme change of your life plans like I did. But I do guarantee that the best way to pursue your truest passions is to have as many options as possible, and those that are highly involved, willing to learn, and openminded have the greatest number of options.
Internships are one of the most important elements of your college career. They provide great opportunities to gain experience in your field of study, network with people, and get out and explore the many possibilities that you can do with your degree. Personally, my internship experience was the best thing to happen to me during my time at UGA. During the fall 2018 semester, I knew that I needed to find myself a summer internship because in just 12 months, I would be graduating and needed to have some experience under my belt. I was helping with an Ambassador Call Night one evening where we call all our donors and thank them for their generous support. I ended up calling an individual who works with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and we struck up a conversation. He asked me if I was considering internships and I, of course, said yes. He said why don’t you send me your resume and I’ll see if we have any openings. I sent him my resume and waited to hear back.
When he got back to me, I was delighted to hear that I would be working with public relations and the game management section of WRD. My duties would include creating content for the WRD social media sites as well as writing articles for the Georgia Wildlife Blog. I had never considered myself as a blogger, but I was excited to give it a try. Thus, began the experience that would start me down a journey that would lead to me rewriting my plan for the future. I’ve always really enjoyed research. Not necessarily the typical form of research where you perform experiments and test theories. Rather, I really enjoy conducting the kind of literature research where you’re given a topic, and you try to learn as much as you can about that topic, then you relay that information in a concise, interesting way. This is exactly what I did during my internship. I would be given a blog idea and it would be my job to run with it and create a piece that people would enjoy reading. I adored my job so much that it made me realize this is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. I am having so much fun getting to go talk to different people, try new things, and learn through my research efforts. This was the type of job where I could combine my love of research with my passion for wildlife. This was the perfect place for me.
If I had not obtained this internship, I never would have gained from this experience and realize that I love this type of thing so much. Few rarely recognize that wildlife agencies need social media and public relations coordinators. I know I didn’t consider it until this internship. That’s why internships are so important. They give you these kind of experiences that have the potential to completely reshape what you thought you wanted to do. If you have the opportunity, take it. Start looking for internships now! You won’t regret it!
To satisfy the field course requirement as a Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism major, I decided to go on the Discover Abroad Hawaii Spring Break trip this year. I used to always think of Hawaii as beautiful sandy beaches and piña coladas. However, our homes for the week in Hilo and Kona were much different. Surprisingly, Hawaii was also full of jagged black rocks and rain! Our goal in Hawaii was not exactly to have a relaxing spring break vacation. Instead, we were tasked to learn, explore, and question our preconceived notions of progress and culture. On each daily journey, I listened, and learned from a new perspective. With every experience, I considered what this meant in terms of progress. Does progress mean that we are constantly creating, changing, and adapting? Or can progress sometimes be embodied in the protection of things the way they are, or were? I saw the protection of the land and native species inside Volcanoes National Park as progress in the way people value nature. Here I learned that while progress is often creation, it can also be preservation.
The biggest issue facing Hawaii now is how the islands can become more sustainable. Hawaii was traditionally very sustainable in its resource allocation and usage but now, they are incredibly dependent on the outside for food and oil. I was also intrigued by the issues Hawaiians are facing in terms of cultural divisions. Renewable energy and sustainability are noble goals that should be worked towards, but the ways in which they are executed must be considerate of all viewpoints. As someone who is typically very science-minded, I learned to consider all sides to changes when it comes to progress. It may seem like progress to build more and more telescopes on the mountain of Mauna Kea to aid in planetary observation and education, but Native Hawaiians’ spiritual ties to Mauna Kea as a sacred site are just as valid. The need for reconciliation between the wants of both groups are things that I never would have considered before this trip. Going to Hawaii has made me more open minded and considerate of the views of people who have completely different cultures than me. It has also made me more willing to try new things (like cliff diving!), even if I’m completely terrified. I hope that with more travel in my future, I will continue to challenge my fears and the way that I think about progress.
Public land, while may not be abundant in my home state of Georgia, is plentiful in the western parts of the United States. I have never had a chance to travel west of the Mississippi to see these lands until the summer of 2016. That summer, I had first position within the U.S. Forest Service as a forestry technician on the Ashley National Forest. Stationed in Dutch John, Utah, I was feet on the ground for the recreation department. Different duties included compliance and acting as a river ranger on the Green River. I then worked this past summer on a timber crew in the Medicine Bow National Forest. Working out of Saratoga, Wyoming, duties included timber marking, cruising for sales, forest health surveys, and beetle kill tree removal. This position was more on the path of my degree, which is forestry. Although very different from my first seasonal job within the agency, I loved every second of last summer. Both of my past seasonal jobs made a huge impact on my life and, eventually, led to a career within the agency that I will follow as I go on to graduate this next fall.
I learned a lot from my last two summers within the agency. The most important life lesson I gained is to learn be comfortable with the uncomfortable. For me, it was travelling 1700 miles across the country to work with people that I have only exchanged a few phone calls and emails with. My first summer on the Ashley, I had no idea what to expect. I went in with certain expectations and they were all shattered within the first week. My colleagues were from all different corners of the country and I was working in a place that looked like it belonged on a different planet. Fast forward three months later, I was a changed man. Through that summer, I gained lifelong friendships with my colleagues, dozens of new skills, and a career path that I will be following for years to come. This personal growth I experienced throughout this position took place because I chose to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Difficult as it was at times, I continued to strive on. I challenge others to do the same. Whether it is working across the United States or in your own backyard, I encourage you to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. You will not regret it.
When I toured the University of Georgia for the first time, tour guides emphasized the fact that the school provides its students countless opportunities to find their “niche” and develop life-long friendships. This is in spite of the fact that UGA boasts an impressive number of students – 35,000 to be exact! They said that “UGA is a big school with small school feel” and I often heard testimonies from students who felt as though they were members of intimate, close-knit community. I was skeptical about this, but ultimately found it to be true when I entered the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. I have made some of my best friends at Warnell and I am so grateful to the school for giving me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. In many ways, Warnell is similar to high school, where you see many of the same students every day. The difference lies in who those students are and the subject matter at hand. The students who attend Warnell, also known as “Warnellians”, are passionate about natural resources.
(“Sapelo Fight Club”)
Being in the presence of like-minded (with respect to natural resources at least – we’re still unique individuals!), determined young professionals is inspiring and encourages me to do my best work. The school of forestry and natural resources stresses the importance of experiential learning activities, such as outdoor labs or weekend-long field trips. These experiences foster key skills, such as teamwork and communication – once you learn to work with someone in the field, it’s very easy to become friends. One of the first field trips I attended as a student in Warnell was in my Vertebrate and Natural History class. We travelled to Sapelo Island where the class got to partake in so many fun, wildlife-centered activities (mist-netting for songbirds and bats, trapping for small rodents, herping, etc.). The friendships that I made on this trip have lasted for over a year, and I expect them to continue to last for many years to come. Although I don’t have much time left at Warnell, I know that the school will continue to do the same for its future students – I have already started to notice blossoming friendships in the newest cohort of students who have entered the professional program. Warnell, thank you for encapsulating what those tour guides meant when they said “UGA is a big school with small school feel”.