MOUNT JACKSON – Dozens of high school juniors and seniors crowded into the Triplett Tech cafeteria Thursday morning to hear from professionals spanning the broad conservation network in Virginia.
Select students from the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School learned about how their classroom lessons focusing on agro-ecology translate to the professional world.
Students bounced from table to table, talking with conservation experts, nonprofit organization staff, and state and federal agencies as well as conservation advocacy groups.
Allyson Ponn, an education and program support specialist for the Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District, said she was pleased with the event and plans to hold it annually.
“I was pleased to see all the tables were having really good discussions,” Ponn said. “Whenever it was time to rotate, I felt bad for cutting off the discussions.”
Ponn noted it was a good problem to have with everyone diving into the topics at hand.
While most tables featured students asking professionals about their jobs — how they got them, what they do day-to-day and what students should look for if they are interested in conservation careers — one table flipped the script on its head.
Tom Stevens, chief ranger for Virginia State Parks, 7 Bends Park, which will open in Shenandoah this fall, took advantage of the fresh faces he had before him.
“The summit, in my opinion, is extremely beneficial, and not just for the students,” Stevens said. “To get them to start that creative thinking process to help with conservation. That’s what benefited the different agencies represented here. Getting their input on issues that we face in our career fields today is a huge benefit.”
Stevens said the biggest issue facing state parks is overcrowding. Visitors come through and enjoy recreation areas, but lands are left behind in disrepair – not always from clear abuse but from general wear and tear.
Working groups, discussion panels and statewide surveys have all tried to tackle the issue of overcrowding, Stevens said. Students bringing a younger, first-hand perspective offered Stevens a plan he — and countless others — had neither heard of nor suggested before.
“I think the idea was inspired by one of the other tables, how agricultural practices push for a rotational crop planting,” he said. “One of the students suggested a rotational recreation area usage.”
Students like Kyle Fisher, a junior at Spotswood High School, said he appreciated the chance to see how his classroom learning translated to fix real-world problems.
“I thought it was a very interesting way of showing us how the things we learn, the environmental aspect of what we learn here, can be taken to the real world,” he said. “To real-world jobs that have an impact on people around us.”
Fisher said he knew about most of the agencies represented on Thursday but wasn’t sure what they did. Learning about an idea or agency and learning what happens in the field made a difference.
“I knew a lot about these agencies, that they existed, that they did something along the lines of helping our environment, but I didn’t know how they went about doing that,” Fisher said. “I learned how they actually go to the farmers and help work with them to establish good environmental projects…they work with farmers and landowners to protect resources they have.”