Wendee Dodds, natural resources specialist for the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) in Jefferson County, Ohio, has always been drawn to the outdoors, earning the nickname of “Frog Lady” by the seventh grade. However, she couldn’t see how to transform her love for nature into a future career, until an experience in her senior year of high school changed it all. “As much as I loved the outdoors, I just couldn’t see how it could translate into something that I could make a living doing,” Dodds said. “But two things happened during my senior year of high school that helped everything fall into place – a high school outdoor class with a teacher that strengthened my passion for conservation and the outdoors, and the Envirothon, an experience that truly opened my eyes about the diversity of not only natural resources but also career opportunities.”
As a result, Dodds went on to study conservation at Kent State University. Her studies in conservation covered all facets of natural resources, including wildlife management, local flora, soils, geology, climatology and more. After graduation, Dodds found work with the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, where for over 20 years, she has combined her lifelong passion for the outdoors with a commitment towards conservation.
“My Envirothon experience helped me to realize that I wasn’t just interested in one specific category of natural resources – I was interested in all of them.”
Dodds’ experience is one shared by countless other students who have participated in Envirothon over the years. For many, the Envirothon program sparks a passion for conservation, inspiring these young adults to pursue careers in natural resources. Part classroom-based study, part hands-on outdoor skills training, the NCF-Envirothon program and competition explores the theoretical and practical knowledge of Aquatic Ecology, Forestry, Soils and Land Use, Wildlife and Current Environmental Issues. Guided by an advisor, and often trained by conservation resource professionals, students work in teams of five to put their skills and knowledge to the test at local, state/provincial, and international competitions for scholarships and awards.
Dodds credits Envirothon with opening her eyes to the possibilities in natural resources and inspiring her eventual career path.
“My team placed somewhere in the middle of the pack at our local area competition, which is what I think makes the potential for Envirothon’s impact on youth even more pronounced. Just that one short experience could change everything.”
After college, Dodds began working for the very same district that sponsored her high school Envirothon team. Remembering her Envirothon experience, Dodds was able to begin leading educational programming for her district, including Envirothon trainings for new teams. Today, Dodds is an Envirothon champion, serving as the chair of the Ohio Envirothon state committee, the vice-chair of the NCF-Envirothon Operating Committee and the chair of the 2022 NCF-Envirothon Ohio annual international competition, which will be hosted by Ohio in July 2022.
When asked about the impact of the Envirothon program on today’s youth, Dodds had this to say: “One of the great things about Envirothon is that the concepts and material the students are learning are always relevant. Participants learn how to be valuable members of a team, problem solve, and engage in cooperative decision making. They gain a greater awareness of natural resources and environmental issues and are exposed to various points of view on those environmental issues, while also learning about a diversity of career opportunities. Education in conservation connects science-based classroom learning and real-world application, which helps students form a more comprehensive picture of today’s natural resources and their significance.”
Each year, over 25,000 students from the United States, Canada and China participate in the NCF-Envirothon. The experiences that these students have today will reach far into the future. Dodds encourages others to learn more, get involved, donate, and witness the impact Envirothon has on students’ lives first-hand.
“If you ever have a chance to interact with students on Envirothon teams or see the kinds of ideas and solutions they present in their oral presentations during the competition, you really do feel your heart swell with pride,” states Dodds. “It makes you look forward with excitement at what they might accomplish in their adult lives. The National Conservation Foundation is committed to helping foster this next generation of conservation leaders across all age groups through the Envirothon and Next Generation Leadership Institute. By donating to this campaign, we can all positively impact the future of our natural resources.”
Please consider donating to NCF’s Fall Fundraising Campaign to help keep programs like the NCF-Envirothon running!