Morgan Calahan, 17, of Beaver County aspires to be a scientific illustrator.
“Anytime I talk to other people, they're like, ‘Oh no, computers are the thing now. You won't get a job,'” she said.
Calahan learned otherwise from wildlife professionals at Powdermill Nature Reserve last week.
The Wildlife Leadership Academy, a program created by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education, held a ruffed grouse-focused field school at Powdermill Nature Reserve, during which conservation experts taught 17 teenagers and four adult teachers about the state bird as well as ecology, biology and habitat management.
“I really learned a lot about the career I want to pursue,” Calahan said.
“Here you get a really hands-on experience with different professionals,” she said.
The Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation is a nonprofit organization that aims to “engage people across the state with the outdoors,” said director Michele Kittell. Its main program is the Wildlife Leadership Academy, which encourages youth to “become ambassadors for wildlife conservation in order to sustain wildlife legacy for future generations.”
Through the academy, Kittell said students attend one of three field schools, which are focused on the ruffed grouse, white-tailed deer and brook trout and coldwater conservation. After field school, they are challenged to complete outreach activities in education, community service, media engagement or the creative arts using the knowledge they gained.
The program provides students exposure to the career possibilities in wildlife and conservation because experts teach the curriculum, Kittell said. Over the years, the program has recruited students from 52 counties in the state.
Linda Ordiway, a regional biologist from the Ruffed Grouse Society, presented a slide show about aging and sexing ruffed grouse, explaining to students what physical features to look for on a bird to determine such characteristics. She said it is important to make students aware of the issues surrounding ruffed grouse.