My WLA Journey

Elizabeth B. profile photo - Elizabeth holding a snake

This week’s blog is a guest post written by Elizabeth B., a Bucktails and Drummers alumni. Elizabeth is a sophomore at Penn State DuBois pursuing her associate degree in wildlife technology and her bachelor’s degree in forest ecosystem management. Her long-term career goal is to become a forester and manage Pennsylvania’s hardwoods for future generations. Elizabeth first attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy in 2018 at the Bucktails field school as a student. She then became an assistant team leader in 2019 and an Academy Support Team member in 2021, helping to run field school. Over the years, Elizabeth has attended all six field school curriculum programs in various roles. Elizabeth is very thankful for the opportunity to attend WLA and grow in her passion for conservation.

“What is WLA?” I have heard this phrase over and over throughout the past 6 years. Now I can tell you with excitement how the Wildlife Leadership Academy, or WLA, has left an impact on me for the rest of my life. I began my WLA journey in 2018 with the opportunity to attend two field schools, Bucktails and Drummers. Each week was packed full of educational lectures, hands-on field experiences, and team comradery. After leaving field school I knew I had found my passion.

Ever since I could walk, I have loved being outdoors and connecting with nature. When I learned about WLA through a friend in 4-H, I couldn’t pass up the chance to attend. While at field school I was able to network with professionals in the conservation field, made lifelong friends, and broadened my knowledge on topics ranging from habitat management to species biology to plant identification. The first day at Bucktails field school I was very shy and reserved. I only spoke if I was spoken to by another teammate or Adult Mentor. However, my Bucktails team leader encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. By the end of the week, I was fully engaged with my teammates and became a more outgoing person. Out of all the different parts of field school, I found myself most intrigued when Cat Pugh and Chris Sacchi gave the “Plant of the Day” and daily plant quizzes. This proved to be true within my future career as I am pursing a job as a forester.

Elizabeth taking a plant quiz at field school
Taking daily plant quizzes!
Instructors, Cat and Chris, teaching plants at field school
Cat and Chris teaching us different types of plants.

The Wildlife Leadership Academy doesn’t end after just one week. After field school, I began conducting outreach throughout my local community, county, state, and even across the nation. I gave dozens of presentations about WLA, talking about my overwhelmingly positive experience and encouraging other youth to attend, including two of my close friends. My tri-fold posters were set up across the state at conferences, libraries, local fairs, and a national horticultural convention. A large part of my outreach was teaching others the knowledge and skills I gained from WLA. After completing outreach, I returned to Bucktails as an Assistant Team Leader (Youth Mentor), leading my team to Winners Weekend and receiving the Ralph Abele Excellence in Outreach Award.

Elizabeth holding a radio telemetry antenna while surrounded by her teammates
Learning how to use radio telemetry to track wildlife.

During the past six years, I have been fortunate to attend all six field schools offered by WLA as a student, Assistant Team Leader, and Academy Support Team member. Working as part of the staff at WLA gave me the opportunity to give back to new students attending field school for the first time. I was able to serve as a leader for youth across the state and interact with presenters who I am still in contact with today. In addition, I was able to invite Gary Alt to speak at my school, encouraging other students with his inspiring stories and impressive career.

Elizabeth giving a presentation at field school
Practicing my presenting skills at field school.

Part of my outreach consisted of a college tour of Penn State DuBois wildlife technology program. Many told me I was young to be attending a college tour, and as a freshman in high school I was not thinking about attending post-secondary education. However, after attending the college visit, I knew there was no other place for me. Six years later, I am graduating Penn State DuBois with an associate degree in wildlife technology with the intention of receiving my bachelor’s in forest ecosystem management from Penn State University Park.

If not for WLA, I would not be where I am today. They gave me the resources, knowledge, and connections to help me progress in my natural resource career. WLA encouraged me to take every opportunity I am presented with and taught me the importance of networking. I am very thankful that through the Wildlife Leadership Academy I was able to find a wonderful college program where I could excel in my studies and dive deeper into my love of forestry. WLA served as a pathway, connecting my passion for conservation to my future career path.

The photos used in this blog belong to the Academy.