What does the Environmental Studies degree offer to students who seek to combine their passion for the natural world, with successful hands on employment?
Alex Patton (ENVST ’14), visited campus in 2018 and shared how she utilized every opportunity and resource available during her time at Penn State Altoona to enhance her post-graduate experience. These opportunities landed her the title of Timber Sale Prep for the Allegheny National Forest in her hometown of Marienville, PA.
Alex began attending Penn State Altoona in late 2011, but was still seeking to identify and forge her path in life. Like many young adults, she admits to having no clue what she wanted to do with her life. Alex describes being unsure whether it was possible to find her passion through any of the available degree programs. That’s when she discovered Environmental Studies. Reading the description for the program, something changed in Alex. Like many whose hearts are drawn to nature and the environment, Alex loved nature, but was still unsure how exactly to turn that into her life’s work. That is exactly where the breadth of the Environmental Studies major speaks to the hearts of its students! Alex writes, “[It] was so attractive to me, because I knew through studying all the different areas of environmentalism, I would find my place along the way.”
Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary program with core classes in the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The program seeks to address environmental problems by application of hands-on experience; including field work, field trips and internship experience. It’s in those experiences during Alex’s 3.5 years at Penn State Altoona - that’s right, Alex completed her four year program a whole semester early! - that she highlights as some of her most memorable classes and to which she attributes her current success in her field.
Some of those favorite courses include dendrology (which she took at University Park), an English special topics course on Building Thoreau’s cabin, and her senior seminar, in Ecomusicology - the latter both taught by Dr. Ian Marshall. The combination of those in-class and hands on experiences are not typical of the college experience - but it is typical of the ENVST program. A program only offered at Penn State Altoona. Additionally, Alex speaks fondly of the fields trips to Shaver’s Creek (Penn State’s Environmental Education Center), playing guitar with Dr. Marshall and building a Thoreau replica cabin, which then became classroom to the very class that built it!
Later when it was time to focus on her internship, Alex found herself leading an after school environmental youth program for 5th and 6th graders at Charles W. Longer Elementary. “We talked about topics such as biodiversity, sustainability, conservation vs. preservation, aquatic ecosystems, invasive species, tree identification, pollution, alternative energy, as well as started a recycling program at the school”! Those topics in large part are discussed in the entry level ENVST 100 class, a requirement for the program, but also open to all Penn State Altoona students.
Upon graduation, Alex again found herself in another remarkable opportunity through the Student Conservation Association which took her across the country and back, from 2015-2017, working in the National Forests and National Parks system. Alex eventually returned to her hometown in Marienville, PA, she landed a position as Forester Intern through the Greening Youth Foundation at the Allegheny National Forest. Alex describes how the job as “Research Assistant” had in turn “[Rewarded] me with something called merit status, which enabled me to procure my permanent position on the timber crew.”
To what does Alex attribute most to her success both in college and beyond? Her advice to students is this:
“Make good connections with your professors. Be a good student for them, and be a good person to them. They are absolutely your best tool in being successful throughout college and beyond. I graduated 4 years ago and I still have great relationships with so many of my professors. They are an amazing resource to you -- not only for information and personal growth, but for your professional growth as well. They will help you go to incredible places, and encourage and enable you to do great work in this world.”
To learn more about the Allegheny National Forests, like them on Facebook.
Written by Erin Nachtman (ENVST ’10)