Teaching & Learning

Written in Stone: QCNR Graduate Ray Poe on Defining His Own Academic Path

By Lael Gilbert |

With both a father and grandfather who worked as National Park Service rangers, conservation has always played a big part in Ray Poe's family history. But when this graduating senior came to USU, he decided to take his academic destiny into his own hands.

Utah State Today is highlighting the profiles of some of the students of the Class of 2022.

It probably occurred to Ray Poe, when he was riding along a ridiculously pitted and rock-strewn service road, fleeing a thunderstorm, riding on treads so worn that they shed like a snake in molt, and peering over the edge of a not-insignificant dropoff, that being in charge of his own academic destiny is both a thrill and a responsibility.

Poe (BS Watershed Sciences and Geology) and his research mentor Alec Arditti were bumping in a truck up the pitted track after a research trip. They were in a hurry, trying to get back onto asphalt before the rain mired them in place, when Arditti suddenly stopped, threw the truck in park near the precipice of the rather steep hill, and ordered Poe to get behind the wheel.

The event, which tested both Poe’s driving skills and blood pressure, and required extended driving in reverse, ended without serious incident. But it could still be considered a sort of metaphor for Poe’s academic experience over the last four years in the Quinney College of Natural Resources — a combination of accepting risk, taking responsibility and expanding his capacity with all sorts of unexpected skill sets.

Not that Poe was new to driving on dirt roads. Growing up among the carved hoodoos and rust-tinted limestone of Tropic, Utah, he had a family history that included a father and grandfather who worked for the National Park Service. Poe had already weathered his fair share of washboard journeys.

“Natural resources and conservation are a big part of my history and played an important role when I was young,” Poe said.

He spent weekends hiking, canoeing and exploring the backcountry canyons of the Colorado Plateau. But like many kids, he initially resisted what his family genealogy told him should already be written in his blood.

“I’ve been told I was quite a brat on some of those trips,” he joked. But he eventually came around.

He arrived at USU tentatively, but quickly found a comfort zone in the many outdoor recreation options easily accessible from campus. He spent plenty of time hiking and kayaking during his time in Logan and embraced a variety of classes in both Watershed Sciences and Geology, meanwhile dealing with a global pandemic that he terms with a straight face “a hiccup.”

During his junior year, Poe decided that he wanted to drive his academic future more intentionally by pursuing a research experience. He cold-approached the department head of Watershed Sciences, Patrick Belmont, with a request for help in finding a topic for a senior thesis.

They brainstormed over several weeks, and when Poe settled on a topic that seemed like a good fit, Belmont set him up with resources to pursue the project. Poe spent the next year partnered with Arditti, who is a graduate student (and who, it should be noted, didn’t typically abandon trucks at the toughest sections of driving). Together they explored how the damaged trees that were coming down after the 2018 Dollar Ridge wildfire impacted the hydrology of streams flowing into Strawberry Reservoir.

“You might not realize it,” Poe said, “but adding that much woody debris to water systems after a fire can have a major impact on how streams behave — if they flood, how they eddy and cascade, and how much sediment is eroded and deposited along their banks.”

He surveyed and measured the downed wood on the ground, and used satellite images before and after the fire to see how much of the wood was being swept into the water system. It was a really fulfilling and expanding research experience, he said.

After he graduates this spring, Poe will be working as a hydrologic technician in the Malheur National Forest near the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon. It will offer a breadth of hands-on work and will lay a solid foundation for his future career plans: working as a hydro-geologist for the federal government, perhaps even, eventually, the National Park Service.

But that plan is not written in stone, he said. Give him a few years with metaphorical boots on the ground to gain experience and define his next steps.

WRITER

Lael Gilbert
Public Relations Specialist
Quinney College of Natural Resources
435-797-8455
lael.gilbert@usu.edu

TOPICS

Water 268stories

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