Deep in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Clemson University forestry students are hard at work. As they trek up Whiteside Mountain, they collect an array of plant and tree species while identifying topographical traits of the area.
The students were participating in one of the many aspects of the Clemson Forestry Summer Camp, a seven-week program designed to give students hands-on experience in the field of forestry.
A curriculum unique to the Clemson forestry and environmental conservation department, the camp enables professors to provide experiential learning in varied environments. Beyond the classroom setting, campers take trips to areas as close as the Clemson Experimental Forest, and as far as South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Each trip provides a perspective on diverse geographic regions and ecology and a wide spectrum of different forestry practices.
“I try to expose them to the widest possible variety of plant communities, particularly the species we can’t see in Clemson,” said Donald Hagan, a forestry ecologist and professor at Clemson University. “We can go farther and stay longer; something we wouldn’t be able to do without the camp.”
The camp consists of four courses: Forest communities covers plant species and ecology; forest operations offers a view of planting, harvesting and related topics; forest mensuration teaches the mathematics associated with forestry and how to measure trees; and forest products looks at mills and wood processing.
The forestry industry in South Carolina has an $18.6 billion annual economic output and produces an estimated 90,320 jobs and $4.5 billion in labor income. The camp prepares students for entering a specialized workforce where much of the economic impact is centered around service activities, trade and natural resources.
“The goal is to expose students to a variety of possibilities they can achieve,” said Patrick Hiesl, professor of forest operations at Clemson University. “They see which fields they could end up in and which fields to focus on.”
The students are introduced to a wide range of professionals at both the logger and company level and are able to gauge their interests in different specializations in the forestry industry. Clemson Alumni work in all facets of the forestry industry, ranging from the U.S. Forest Service to major industry corporations like Georgia Pacific. The students receive valuable industry advice and connections from those who came before them.
“They start to have a sense of professional identity and realize what they want to do in the world,” said Hagan.“Clemson’s forestry summer camp was a revelation for me and most others in my class, because it was the first time most of the students had the opportunity to actually engage in the forestry work that we had been learning about in lectures and to some extent in outdoor labs,” said Gene Kodama, S.C. State Forester and Clemson alumnus. “The camp was a great experience and very important to my forestry education.”
“It teaches us a lot of hands-on experience. Most forestry companies want to see summer camp on our resumes because it prepares us so much for the industry,” said Tim Schumann, a forestry and wildlife and fisheries biology major from Campobello.
For foresters, safety is a paramount concern. Members of Forestry Mutual Insurance demonstrate the uses of protective gear, proper safety measures and the effects of not following them. The camp teaches the students proper methods of forestry and how to remain safe in practice.
The importance of this camp is to educate the students on what it means to be a forester: the different specializations of the industry, field experience, and perhaps most importantly, the new relationships that are needed to succeed.
“There is a camaraderie aspect to the camp that’s vital to the forestry industry. We’re also able to give them the technical field experience that would be a challenge to do in a traditional class,” said Hagan. “Clemson has a reputation for producing great field foresters and part of that is spending so much time in summer camp.”