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Clay Colley, Spotlight on Student Leadership

By February 2, 2023March 15th, 2023No Comments

Involvement within the Auburn University College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment student organizations provides opportunity for students to exercise leadership skills, build relationships with their classmates and foster community between students and professionals in the varying occupations associated with forestry, wildlife and natural resources. In his own words, learn how participation in student clubs has positively impacted Clay Colley’s experience at Auburn and his career potential after graduation:

Area of Study: Biosystems Engineering (Ecological concentration) with minor in Watershed Sciences  

Expected Graduation: Spring 2024

Involvement: Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Auburn University chapter

Why did you choose Auburn?  

I chose to attend Auburn because of my love for the Auburn community and Auburn’s excellence in academia. Growing up in a small town, I always loved Auburn’s small town feel even though it is one of the largest cities in Alabama. Auburn people are caring and personable. We look out for one another and support the community through thick and thin. In addition, I was drawn to the high standard of excellence of both the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. There is a certain sense of pride that comes with attending a university that holds a reputation for producing professional-grade graduates. Auburn’s reputation of academic excellence is a direct result of the high standard to which students are held. This standard encourages students to succeed and provides them with a valuable work ethic. 

What led you to choose this field of study? 

I chose my major and minor because of my passion for conserving waterways. This passion was manifested from my passion for fishing and hunting. My hobbies have allowed me to see well-managed waterways, as well as some very poorly managed ones. Witnessing this contrast in conservation standards led me onto a path towards contributing to watershed restoration and preservation. Without clean waterways, we are presented with environmental degradation and human health risks. I have seen the real-life effects of environmental degradation through sedimentation in the Cahaba River. The main source of sedimentation in a watershed is runoff from development. Sedimentation severely changes the design of a watershed and kills aquatic life due to the alteration of environment. It is my goal to help in the mitigation of watershed degradation, due to development, and to conserve healthy aquatic ecosystems for generations to come. 

What is your favorite part about being a student in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment? 

My favorite part of being a student within the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment is connecting with like-minded people who have a passion for the outdoors. 

Describe a class that you have taken as a student of the watershed sciences minor that has left an impact on you. 

The class that has impacted me the most is Watershed Management taught by Dr. Latif Kalin. This course reiterated aspects of watershed management that I have seen first-hand and presented aspects of watershed management that were new to me. I learned of the degree to which the implementation of best management practices influences waterways. Watershed Management also provided a foundation of knowledge in operating geospatial informatics systems, or GIS, software. This knowledge has proven useful within my coursework, and I am excited to implement those skills in my career.  

What opportunities within the college have helped ensure your academic success?  

I believe my involvement in the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, or BHA, chapter at Auburn University has helped ensure my academic success. It may sound counterintuitive, but BHA has allowed me to invest time into introducing others to the outdoors and advocating public lands, which has resulted in a more fulfilling student experience. My role as president provides a balance between schoolwork and my interests because I feel that I am making a difference, while earning a degree. 

If you are involved in a student organization within the college, describe the group’s purpose and why being a member is important to you.

The purpose of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers at Auburn University is to ensure North America’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters. This is accomplished by instilling a passion for conservation within the organization’s members and providing avenues for them to aid in public land improvement. BHA’s purpose is also accomplished by teaching aspiring hunters and anglers the skills and knowledge necessary to hunt or fish safely, legally and ethically. Becoming a member of BHA at Auburn University is important because membership provides opportunities to connect with other like-minded individuals and make an active difference for public lands, waters and wildlife.   

What are you doing right now as a student that is giving you supplemental experience in your desired field? 

As a student, I am currently employed as a property manager for a sporting lodge just outside of Auburn. This experience has allowed me to understand and appreciate the energy that is put into managing a healthy ecosystem. I have been able to take part in implementing the best management strategies to reduce runoff into nearby waterways. I have come to know that landowner involvement in preventing erosion plays a critical role in sustaining healthy and diverse watersheds. 

What are your plans after you graduate? 

Upon graduation, I look forward to entering the work force as a watershed engineer for either an engineering or conservation firm. I also plan to open my own sport dog kennel and training facility. 

What are you passionate about? How does CFWE allow you to pursue those passions? 

I am passionate about improving and conserving watersheds for future generations. I want to provide healthy watersheds to people, so that they too can value their natural beauty and ecosystem services. CFWE allows me to pursue these passions by providing classroom and hands-on experience that will translate to my projected career path. Hands on experience includes both software instruction and experiential field work. 

What advice would you give to upcoming CFWE freshmen? 

Firstly, I encourage upcoming freshmen to work hard in everything they do. Find something you are passionate about and pursue it with everything you have: leave nothing to chance. Secondly, I encourage them to network. The combination of education, connections, and experience are what will get you places, so never forgo an opportunity to share a conversation. Thirdly, I encourage upcoming freshmen to join a campus organization and be an active member. Finally, I encourage them to have fun. You cannot relive your college years, so meet new people and do things you love with the freedom that you have. 

Interview is lightly edited for clarity.

(Written by Avanelle Elmore)

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