Hands-on Research Helps Student Prepare for Wildlife Career

Posted May 7, 2012 

When the economy slowed and his inside sales job lost its luster, Darin Hamilton, 41, decided it was time to go back to school. He enrolled at Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) with the goal of turning his interest in wildlife into a career. Now in the second and final year of the Natural Resources Technology program, Wildlife Resources option, he is on track to meet his goal.

“I want to work with big game,” Hamilton said. “This program is giving me the hands-on experience I need to do that.”

Dr. Walter Shriner, an instructor in the Natural Resources Technology program, encourages his students to participate in studies and internships whenever they can. Last fall, Hamilton and three other MHCC students counted elk pellets for the Mount St. Helens Monument Elk Habitat Study.

“It may not be glamorous work, but pellet counts are necessary to determine how many elk are out there and how they are adjusting to the landscape changes,” Shriner said.  “Some changes are obvious, like the 1980 eruptions, but others are equally important and managers need to know how populations change so they can manage them well.”

A Great Way to Launch a Career in Natural Resources

The study was coordinated by the University of Alberta, in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). MHCC faculty often try to connect students in the program with volunteer opportunities to gain experience that makes them competitive for jobs after graduation.

“This was a real study designed by wildlife biologists,” continued Shriner. “The students got to see how the things they’ve learned in the classroom apply out in the field. This was extremely valuable experience for anyone wanting to pursue a career in natural resources.  One of the strengths of our program is that students graduate with both classroom and job experience.”

Second Research Experience Enhances Education

In February, Hamilton was invited back to participate in a day-long study to determine the overall health of the herd using organs harvested from elk by hunters this past season. He was one of only three students chosen to participate in the elk project, now in its third year, alongside a team of 13 WDFW employees and volunteers.

“That kind of experience is something we can’t replicate in class very often,” Shriner said.  “It’s not every day you get to work beside experienced field biologists doing what is the elk equivalent of a forensic autopsy.”

Hamilton said, “It was a fun learning experience and I’m proud to put it on my resume."

For more information about MHCC’s Natural Resources program, please visit mhcc.edu.    

By Jamilyn Mohr 

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 Last Modified: 5/7/2012 08:44:42 AM