Utah State University scholars proved they’re a force to be reckoned with at the 2008 student quiz bowl at the Society of American Foresters national convention held Nov. 5-9 in Reno, Nev. The Aggie team bested competitors from 31 schools in single-elimination rounds of competition designed to test students’ knowledge of theory and practice in varied disciplines of forestry.
Team members were undergraduate students Matt Lewis, captain; Jeremiah Armentrout, Seth Ex, Richie Gardner, Peter Howard, Rachel Pyles and Crest Simeon.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time USU has participated in the competition,” says faculty mentor Terry Sharik, professor in the College of Natural Resources’ Department of Environment and Society. “And our team absolutely blew the other teams away. No one expected ‘the newcomers’ to dominate the tournament.”
Preparation, team members say, made the difference.
“We started weekly training for the competition at the start of fall semester,” says team member Seth Ex, a senior forestry major and president of USU’s SAF chapter.
At training sessions, Sharik and colleague Jim Long, professor in the Department of Wildland Resources, grilled the team, in timed trials, on silviculture, forest and range ecology, fire management, remote sensing, entomology, ethics, forest pathology, the history of forestry and more.
Placing first in the nation was a thrilling experience, the students say, but attending the convention was a worthwhile opportunity.
“I can’t underscore enough how valuable this experience was,” says Ex, who plans to pursue graduate studies in silviculture. “We met with researchers, grad students and professors from around the country. We also met and talked with U.S. Forest Service chief Abigail Kimball.”
Armentrout, an environmental studies major, says he appreciated the opportunity to network with forestry professionals and learn about graduate programs offered at varied universities. A native of West Virginia, Armentrout plans to pursue a career in mine reclamation.
The convention’s theme, “Forestry in a Climate of Change,” offered lively discussion sessions and a rich range of research presentations, the students say.
“Foresters are not only dealing with the impact of climate change and its implications for forests,” Howard says. “They’re also dealing with a changing political climate, changes in the profession, the impact of new technology and, of course, an economic crisis.”
The U.S. Forest Service and the forest industry, the students note, is also facing a generational turnover. Many current agency and industry positions are held by baby boomers who will soon retire and pass the reins to a new crop of forestry professionals.
The challenges in their chosen field are many, but the Aggies agree that USU is providing a solid training ground.
“Our forestry program is relatively small yet our faculty is recognized nationwide — they’re of the caliber you’d expect from an Ivy League school,” says Howard, great-grandson of longtime Bureau of Land Management conservationist Fred Pack Howard, USU Class of ‘34. “As students, we receive exceptional one-on-one interaction with our professors.”
The team is already setting their sights on next year’s competition, which takes place in Orlando, Fla. In preparation for the trip, the Aggies kick off one of their annual fundraisers — a Christmas tree and firewood sale — during the Thanksgiving break.
“Our goal is to defend our title and bring younger students on board to share in the excitement and learning opportunities,” Ex says.