Most Read Article of 2020: The Forestry Source

December 30, 2020

What was your favorite article from The Forestry Source in 2020?  Enjoy the most read article below from the June 2020 edition. 

SUNY Ranger School Students Complete Residential Program and Graduate 
By Steve Wilent

All college graduations are memorable, especially during the continuing covid-19 pandemic, but the graduation at the State University of New York (SUNY) Ranger School will be more memorable than most. Faced with the prospect of finishing their final term though online lectures and exams, students of the Ranger School opted to remain on campus and complete their courses in person.

SUNY Ranger School Class of 2020. Photo by M.R. Bridgen.

This was possible only because Ranger School students live on the university’s 2,800-acre campus, where no unrelated programs are offered. The school offers an SAF-accredited Forest Technology associate of applied science degree program, along with Environmental and Natural Resources Conservation and Land Surveying Technology programs. In previous years, students have been allowed to leave the campus, which is in Wanakena, New York, a rural area in the state’s six-million-acre Adirondack Park; many have personal vehicles.

This year, the school’s 32 forest technology students voted to stay in school and, with a compressed schedule, finish the term several weeks early. The students worked through spring break and took classes and on-campus field labs for eight hours a day, six days a week in March and April. Off-campus field trips and labs were canceled. No one was allowed to enter or leave the campus; students were required to turn over car keys to staff. Food and other deliveries were left outside and retrieved by staff.

“It was scary,” said Ranger School director Michael Bridgen. “A lot of students came from out of state, and their parents were in California, Florida, or someplace far away, and some family members were getting sick. The students were feeling a lot of stress. We felt that staying here at the school was safer than going home, because we’re so isolated. It worked out well. The parents were pleased, the students were pleased, and the university’s administration was very supportive.”

The students, Bridgen added, were resilient.

“We expected a lot of them, and they have demonstrated their resolve,” he said.

It wasn’t all work and no play, however.

“We built in some stress-relieving activities, too,” Bridgen said. “Students did some weekend camping and organized some hikes into the local mountains. We offered some movie nights, a Saturday night musical ‘shindig’ sponsored by the faculty, and an Easter egg hunt. The student vehicle parade, where they were allowed to run their cars and trucks around campus, was very well received.”

Students and staff worked until the last minute to prepare for graduation. Bridgen gave his students their final exam in silviculture on the morning of the graduation ceremony.

The ceremony, which had been scheduled for May 16, was held on April 17. The event was viewed live by family and friends via YouTube.

“You wouldn’t know that it took us days to figure out camera angles and spacing to make it look good on the video,” said associate professor Mariann Garrison-Johnston, CF. “We did one rehearsal walk-through about two hours before the ceremony. But the students did great, I was so happy for them, and for Mike. It wasn’t the final graduation ceremony he was expecting, but I thought it went great, all things considered.”

Bridgen, who joined the school’s faculty on 1992, will retire this summer. Garrison-Johnston, who will step into the director’s position this fall, said she and her colleagues are working on a plan for resuming in-person classes in the fall. Garrison-Johnston is a member of the SAF Board of Directors.

Students React
I asked students via e-mail about their unique experience at the Ranger School. Here are excerpts from their responses.

Jonathan Lasselle: “For me, Ranger School was all about the field experience. When the pandemic started growing, and spring break was cancelled, I was disappointed, but fully on board with it, if it meant we could complete our degree. Dr. Bridgen gave us the option to go home and complete the program online, but nobody in the school wanted that. We were all there because we believed in the hands-on learning we could get in an actual forest setting. The first two weeks were on-edge. Everyone still believed we'd be sent home, and Doc had class meetings every morning to give us updates and make sure everyone's needs were met. We relaxed some after our meeting with the college president, when he told us we would not be sent home without completing the program.”

Nicole Housden: “It was definitely a challenge to go to school Monday–Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then find time to complete the major projects, papers, and the miscellaneous homework we were assigned. It was nothing short of insanity, but I lived for it. It was amazing to see what you’re made of, what you’re capable of. I choose to stick out the semester because when the going gets tough, I do not give up. It is not who I am. I took it as a personal challenge to see the semester to the bitter end.”

Matt Castrello: “I thought the graduation was a nice gesture towards the parents and family members of the graduates who had made sacrifices and supported us along the way. It was really important to the students to make sure that everything went as best as it could because of the countless hours Doc [Bridgen] put in. Doc retired with our graduating class, and in the eyes of many students it was one last hurrah for the class and for Doc.”

SAF Members: Read more articles from all the 2020 editions of The Forestry Source here.

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