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Fostering engagement in natural resources through research : a case study of a high school summer employment program

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  • WSU Extension launched the Summer Youth Forestry Institute (SYFI) in 2007 as a way to engage youth in meaningful outdoor summer employment, teach science and natural resource skills, raise awareness of the functions and values of working forest lands, encourage natural resource-related careers, and enhance the management of public forest lands through community-based science. The month-long program’s objectives are validated by research showing that nature-based, achievement-oriented learning experiences in adolescence are influential in resource professionals’ choice of careers (Wolf and EarthCorps 2007). Ten high school students receive training in forest sampling methodologies and then collect data in permanent study plots on a 1,800-acre county-owned forest. The students learn to use tools of the trade ranging from the simple (map and compass) to the complex (Landscape Management System forest growth projection and visualization software). They then provide the data they collect to County forest managers to be used in a long-term monitoring program for forest health and timber inventory. Area foresters and other professionals serve as mentors and speakers throughout the program, and students receive a stipend, enabling those who must earn money over the summer to participate. This presentation shares some of the successes, challenges, and lessons learned in implementing the SYFI in its first year. The program successfully attracted students from diverse backgrounds, imparted skills, and increased appreciation for forests and forestry. While all participants felt they gained exposure to new career possibilities, few mentioned that their interest in forestry careers rose as a result of their participation. Long-term follow-up would be needed to accurately gauge the program’s impact on students’ engagement in natural resources. As the program enters its second year, we are focusing on streamlining program delivery, strengthening our assessment methods, and developing the program into a model for replication in other regions of the state. A major challenge is finding funding sources to support a very high-quality program that only reaches a small number of students. Literature Cited: WOLF, K.L., and EARTHCORPS 2007. Trees and youth in the city: research on urban forest stewardship and positive youth development. Society of American Foresters 2007 National Convention, Portland, OR.
  • Keywords: natural resources, experiential learning, forestry, service learning, youth
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  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA
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