Involvement within the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences 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 John Ellis’ experience at Auburn and his career potential after graduation:
Major: Natural Resources Management
Expected Graduation: Spring 2021
Involvement: Forest, Environment, and Wildlife Leadership Academy, or FEWL, SFWS Student Ambassador
What led you to choose this major?
I began in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM, with the intent of going to medical school or entering medical sales. I was on track for that for about three semesters but found that I was not enjoying my studies so I started thinking about switching majors.
At that time, a family friend who had graduated from the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, or SFWS, in 2016 recommended that I look into its programs. From there, I researched majors through exploring the school’s website and scheduled an appointment with Mrs. Lisa Hollans in Student Services. She really helped me decide to transfer into the natural resources management major.
Why did you choose Auburn?
Auburn has always been a second home to me; my dad and all of my cousins went to Auburn, and my grandparents have lived here throughout my childhood, so I grew up coming here to visit family and attend games with them. I knew by the time I was eight years old that I wanted to go to Auburn.
What is your favorite part about being a student in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences?
I would say my favorite part is the people I have met and the relationships I have gained from being a student at the school. The pre-med program at any university is really competitive, and I felt that pressure as a student of COSAM, but the atmosphere here is much different. We aren’t individual students that compete against each other, we are a connected student body with students that work with one another to achieve the school’s goals. As a student you are assured that your professors genuinely want you to succeed and will do whatever they can to help you.
Describe a class that you have taken as a student of Natural Resources Management that has left an impact on you.
Dendrology, taught by Dr. Nancy Loewenstein, left an impact because it was a tough course that turned out to be very rewarding. I think that class is great because it allows students of any major within the school to be able to identify and distinguish between so many types of trees. Dr. Loewenstein is one of my favorite professors because although the class was really challenging, I learned so much, and I’m proud of that knowledge.
What opportunities within the school have helped ensure your academic success?
The best opportunity that I have had so far has been the Forestry, Environment and Wildlife Leadership or FEWL, Academy. It is a group of fifteen students that meet and discuss different character traits and skills that leaders possess both in the workforce and in their everyday lives. It’s been an amazing way to connect with academically motivated students and build skills that directly translate into the workforce. We are also able to meet with government leaders in Montgomery, Atlanta and Washington D.C. It’s been great to learn how they are expanding natural resource policies within the southeast and throughout the nation.
If you are involved in a student organization within the school, describe the group’s purpose and why being a member is important to you.
I am an SFWS Student Ambassador. Becoming a part of that program has been really important to me as a transfer student. When I began at SFWS it was a little nerve wracking because I had just completely changed this life plan that I had had since I was in middle school. The students I met when I was in the midst of that change were really helpful during the transition; they and Mrs. Hollans made me feel comfortable and welcome. It really felt like I had found a home within the school.
I got involved in the Student Ambassadors program because I wanted to be a person that a new student can look to for advice and reassurance like those people were for me during that stressful time. I’ve been thinking about proposing transfer student tours because as of right now ambassadors only give tours to incoming freshmen.
What are you doing right now as a student that is giving you supplemental experience in your desired field?
I have been working at an outdoor summer camp for the last two summers and I was recently promoted from working with the horses to be a part of the outdoor education program where I will get to take campers on guided hikes and teach them about sustainability and Alabama’s woodlands and wildlife.
I’m really excited to use the knowledge I’ve learned in classes like dendrology to give the campers a cool learning experience and hopefully spark an interest in the outdoors. I grew up attending the same camp and that’s how I grew to love working in the outdoors, so it’s really come full circle for me.
What are your plans after you graduate?
I plan to stay in the southeast for my career. I’m not sure of the exact job I would like to have, but I feel confident that I will find something that I love because of the many options in natural resources management. Right now, I’m leaning toward working in land-based management, but I’m also really interested in conservation science, so I’m excited to see where those interests take me. Wherever I end up, I want to utilize the skills that I’m gaining through the FEWL Academy and become a leader in the natural resources workforce of the southeast.
What are you passionate about? How does SFWS allow you to pursue those passions?
I’ve always really enjoyed outdoor recreation through hiking, hunting and fishing. Working at a summer camp has sparked a passion for showing others, especially kids, how great those experiences are and why we need to protect our natural resources through conservation and environmental ethics. It’s also really exciting to be able to translate conservation values and ethics into topics and experiences that cater to kids. I think those experiences are important because of the distractions of technology that keep kids focused on a screen instead of exploring the outdoors.
Even just sparking an interest in one or two campers out of the group is great because that’s one or two more people that can become passionate about the environment and grow up to enter programs through places like SFWS. The school has helped me to pursue that passion for outdoor education by giving me the knowledge, confidence and skills to be able to teach kids about those topics.
What advice would you give to upcoming SFWS freshmen?
I would tell them to not be afraid to have an open mind. When I started at Auburn I had this concrete plan for my studies, and of course it has changed, so I wish I could go back and tell myself that I don’t have to be dead set on that path. It would have been great for me to be open to studying natural resources management earlier, but I’m really happy that I’m here now.
Also, it’s okay to not be perfectly confident about your major; once you get to know students you understand that it’s really common to switch paths. In general, freshmen should know their options, be open to new opportunities and invest in their interests.
Interview is lightly edited for clarity.
(Written by Avanelle Elmore)