Skip to main content

WCU Stories

Exploration Leads to Career Connections

Natural Resources Conservation and Management camping trip equals career opportunities

By Geoff Cantrell

For almost a week, 29 students and five faculty members in Western Carolina University’s Geosciences and Natural Resources Department went camping and visiting sites across the mountains. It was fun, to be sure, but there was a specific purpose.

It provided an opportunity to experience potential careers firsthand, centered around interaction with personnel from federal, state and non-governmental conservation groups across Western North Carolina and Northern Georgia.

Students standing over a river

“Think of it as a field trip that doubled as a job fair,” said Jane Dell, assistant professor of Geosciences and Natural Resources and Conservation Management. “Beyond career exploration, the trip provided students the chance to build comradery with one another and to get to know their professors."

“Our meetings also included hearing from several WCU alumni from the program. It is a broad discipline, and our students can take several different pathways after graduation. Therefore, our goal was to introduce students to numerous professionals in the field, who then share their individual career journeys. Speakers discussed the type of work their groups perform and agency missions, provided career advice and answered students' questions.”

Students with an alumni
students with an alumni

The department has programs in geology, natural resources conservation and management, earth science education, interdisciplinary environmental science, and geography, with nationally ranked research and instruction from internationally recognized faculty.

“From field labs and camping trips to research and participation in professional conferences, we offer students a variety of real-world experiences to their degrees.”

“Going into Natural Resources Management at the beginning of the year, I had no idea how many options there were in the field,” said student Ella Voorhees, a sophomore in NRCM from Charlotte.“This trip taught me so much about all the things I could do after I graduate. It also taught me how many things I can do even before I graduate to gain experience, which is one of the best ways to be able to get a job immediately out of college. I learned a lot about the various things I could do with my degree. We got to hear from people working for the federal government, the state government and private companies.

“I think it was very beneficial for everyone to hear all these different perspectives. I also thought it was very valuable to be able to talk to these people and ask questions because it is not every day that you get to hear about all these job opportunities and receive advice from people actually doing these jobs. It is very valuable to hear from people who were once in your same position.”

Students in the field during the camping trip
Student holding a turtle in the field
Students in the field

For Peter Vue, a junior in NRCM from Connelly Springs, the trip created a better understanding of the many capabilities required for outdoors and conservation roles. “Listening to different people who do different things to help manage the resources we have only gave me more motivation to continue with this major,” he said. “It helped a lot to know that there are numerous job opportunities out there and that any experience in this field is key to obtaining a career.”

Among stops for the group:

• N.C. Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, with a tour that was led by two alumni, Katie Freeman and Will Morrow
• A private landowner in Sylva to see a streambank stabilization project done in conjunction with the Natural Resource Conservation Service
• Nonprofit conservation groups, Mainspring Conservation Trust of Franklin, and Forest Stewards of Cullowhee
• U.S. Forest Service, Blue Ridge Ranger District headquartered in Blairsville, Georgia. Representatives from numerous programs including fire, wildlife, recreation and archeology made presentations, including one by WCU alumnus Casey Young
• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chattahoochee Fish Hatchery, also in Blairsville, Georgia
• Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in Otto

Students at a farm speaking with an alumni

Department head and participating faculty member Diane Styers described the trip as exemplifying the type of experiential learning opportunities provided through the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources. “From field labs and camping trips to undergraduate research and participation in professional conferences,” she said, “we offer students a variety of ways to add relevant real-world experiences to their degree programs.”

Participating student William Brodauf, a sophomore in environmental science from Cornelius, perhaps summed it up best: “This field trip was an absolute joyful and life-changing experience that I am extremely thankful for. I met and had fun with great people who will be in my classes in the future and have similar interests as me,” he said. “It was amazing interacting with the professors I will have and developing a connection. Another valuable part of the trip outside of the career-aspects was my realization that I am not spending as much time outdoors as I wish. I realized I can do much more where we live, and I learned plenty of skills and how I can get started. Camping for me was something I needed greatly after a long year. I loved it.”

All the students

For more information on WCU’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources, call 828-227-7367.

About Geosciences and Natural Resources

Program Overview

Location: Cullowhee - Main Campus

Undergraduate, Bachelor of Science

Residential - 120 Credit Hours

Geology, Envir. Science, NRCM, Geography

Field Research and Experiential Learning

Discover More About the Program

Office of Web Services