The Botanical Capacity Assessment project identified the need for more botany instruction in the classroom and in college programs. Creating new courses is definitely an important step forward to ensure we can take part in the management of such issues as food security, sustainability, and biodiversity (Kramer & Havens, 2010). But how do you know students will want to take these courses, especially in light of research indicating that careers in natural resource management have very low appeal among high school seniors (Hager et al., 2007)?
Research intern and high school student Sarah Hager of the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science, and Mathematics (Hartsville, SC), professor Thomas Straka and research associate Heather Irwin, both from Clemson University in South Carolina, employed traditional research methods and social media savvy to answer a very important question…
What do teenagers think of environmental issues and natural resources management careers?
The Research Tool
Hager et al. (2007) created a survey format that would appeal to teenagers. Their survey was short and contained a mix of closed-ended questions, open-ended questions, and a list of environmental issues. They sent a draft of their survey to peers in the fields of forestry, natural resources, and environmental education. Feedback from these professionals helped to shape the final survey.
How They Got The Word Out
Hager et al. (2007) used Myspace to poll teenagers during summer vacation. Twenty surveys were sent to Myspace participants in each state (n=1,000). Hager et al. (2007) used the filtering capabilities of the social network to target 17-year old high school students across the nation. Random numbers were used to identify random zip codes within each state.
Of those polled, 14.8% responded (n=148). Sixty percent of the respondents were female and 80% of the respondents were college-bound. When presented with a list of environmental issues, more than half rated the issues as “somewhat important” (Hager et al., 2007). Respondents rated the loss of wildlife habitat, pollution, and sustainability as the most important environmental issues. Global warming, urban development, fragmentation, private property rights, and invasive species followed in the rankings.
Hager et al. (2007) included in their survey a component to evaluate student awareness of natural resource careers. Student awareness was measured by their ability to accurately define what each profession does for a living. Most students could define what soil & water conservationists, wildlife managers, foresters, and park rangers do in their respective professions. When asked if these professions appealed to them, respondents stated these professions did not appeal to them. Park ranger was the most attractive of the choices, with forester being the least attractive. Respondents thought being a forester would be “boring” and expressed sentiments such as “I don’t like bugs” or “I’m not interested” (Hager et al., 2007).
The Big Picture
While high school seniors seem to be interested in environmental issues and take part in environmental programs, they have little interest in pursing a career in natural resource management (Hager et al., 2007). Hager, Straka, and Irwin describe student interest in environmental issues as being a “popular interest” shaped by the media because most students reported that the media is their primary source of information about the environment. In response to this, Hager et al. (2007) recommends that careers in natural resource management are presented as options during career counseling in high school and that enhanced marketing efforts should be employed to make careers in natural resource management more appealing.
A thorough analysis of survey results and an explanation of how Myspace was used to conduct this survey is provided in Hager et al. (2007).
This article is available online from the Society of American Foresters ($29.50) or at a library near you (enter your location in the search field).
Hager, Sarah, Thomas Straka, and Heather Irwin. 2007. What do teenagers think of environmental issues and natural resources management careers? Journal of Forestry 105(2): 95-98.
Kramer, Andrea and Kayri Havens. 2010. Assessing Botanical Capacity to Address Grand Challenges in the United States. A report by the Botanical Capacity Assessment Project. Website http://www.bgci.org/usa/bcap [accessed 26 January 2011].