Conservation Workshop Directs Students’ Careers

NC State RCW participant learns to use survey equipment

Not every high schooler took a summer vacation this year.  Eighty from across NC invested their time working on career plans at this year’s Resource Conservation Workshop.  NC State Crop and Soil Science cohosted the week of hands-on experiences with the NC Division of Soil and Water to introduce students to the broad range of conservation studies and careers.  And it meant getting outside.

Conservation in action

“Wondering what to tell folks ‘natural resources’ means?  I just remember SWAPA – soil, water, air, plants, and animals,” Franklin County Soil & Water Conservation District’s Charlie Bass told a group, “We’re working to protect them all.” 

RCW students learn to count their paces
Students learn to pace themselves

This diverse group of rising juniors and seniors became NC State students for a week – living on campus, learning  from NC State faculty, and getting to work in research field labs.  Each of their four study days provided a deep dive into soil science, water and wildlife, forestry, and land management. And every discipline provided research challenges that required getting active. Groups at Bass’s surveying station took turns handling professional survey equipment and practicing their stride measurement.

“You’ve got to get out and walk.  When we work with farmers on management plans, you can’t sit in the truck.  You’ve got to get a feel for the land,” Bass told students.  And they did.  All  silently falling into line and diligently counting their paces to know when they had covered 100 feet.  “You’ll get it,” he assured them.

Learning in the field

Conservation students learn about soil science
Getting a feel for soil

Throughout the week, students visited NC State’s Agroecology Education Farm, Falls Lake, Clemmons Educational Forest, and NC State’s Soils Field Lab.  They sat in lectures from university and industry experts.  And they sampled NC State’s dining fare – mostly pizza plus some veggies grown at the campus Agroecology Farm.  A true NC State experience. 

Outside of class time, participants learned about college major options and questioned a student/counselor panel to learn about conservation career pathways.  “RCW students usually come recommended by vocational agriculture teachers or through FFA or Envirothon clubs,”  Gail Hughes of the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District noted.  “They all have different levels of knowledge and interests.  And this is a great start.” 

RCW workshop at NCSU Agroecology Farm
RCW visits the NC State Agroecology Farm

Hughes started her best management practices groups by asking, “‘Where am I?’  That’s an important thing to know when you’re looking at a map.”  Her students learned to read farm plan maps and identify conservation practices like contour farming, buffers, and water runoff zones.  “Some of these students come from farm backgrounds, but not all of them.  For some, these are all new ideas.”      

Conservation changes communities

NC State Extension’s Liz Driscoll organized this year’s event.  “This is our 56th year offering the Resource Conservation Workshop.  We’re trying to engage young people to think about careers in agriculture and natural resources.  We want them to experience nature and connect how these systems work together.”  Soil & Water Conservation Districts across the state recruit and sponsor students interested in environmental studies to attend the cost-shared program. 

RCW students present conservation plans
Students presented conservation plans

After the week of lectures and hands-on experiments, students demonstrated their knowledge in presentations and a written exam with the lure of prizes at stake.  Seven winners took home a combined $2,800 in cash and scholarships.  In return, students generally write an essay or provide a presentation to their Soil & Water board detailing what they learned.  “Most of these students go on to natural resources degree programs.  But we also aim to create actionable attitudes that change our communities.  Conservation benefits us all,” Driscoll concluded. 

Find out more

Know a high schooler who is interested in conservation study?  Visit to learn more about what NC State’s Crop and Soil Sciences has to offer. 

Looking to apply for next year’s RCW?  Contact Liz Driscoll or your local Soil & Water District for information and deadlines.    

Follow NC State Crop & Soil Sciences on Twitter or Facebook to see how we’re #growingthefuture.