SIDNEY — Officials of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, including Director Jim Zehringer, visited Fairlawn Local School on Tuesday to present information to students regarding potential careers in wildlife and natural resources.
Principal John Stekli said he felt as though the visit would strike a cord with some of the students who may benefit from learning about these employment possibilities.
“We have a lot of kids that are outdoor (types), and agriculture kids, so we felt it would make a connection with a lot of them,” he said.
Superintendent Jeff Hobbs stressed the importance of preparing students for the workforce by informing them of the various options available to them upon graduating from high school.
“We want to flood our kids with career choices,” he said.
Zehringer addressed Fairlawn students in grades fourth through 12th, Tuesday, in multiple sessions.
He began by highlighting the benefits of living and going to school in a rural town.
“You don’t know how lucky you are to go to school here, in the middle of a corn field,” he said. “There is something special about going to a school where the teachers know you and understand you.”
According to Zehringer, ODNR employs around 2,500 people.
“ODNR is such a diverse agency,” he said. “We’re recreational; we’re law enforcement; we are regulatory, educational, and (we) research. There are a lot of opportunities for you to think about.”
Zehringer went on to say that ONDR is responsible for 21 state forests, 144 wildlife areas, 136 state nature preserves, and all of the dams throughout the state.
As for career opportunity, Zehringer said, in order for ODNR to operate, it needs to employ wildlife officers, park officers, natural resource officers, naturalists, engineers, geologists, general maintenance (workers), legislative liaisons, and wildlife biologists.
Also in attendance on Tuesday was ODNR’s Matt Hoehn, state wildlife officer field supervisor; Erin Shaw, naturalist at Caesar Creek State Park; Glen Cobb, former deputy director of ODNR; and Dr. Dan Kelley, dean of the schools of natural resources at Hocking College.
Cobb, who played as a linebacker for both OSU and the Denver Broncos, worked for ODNR for 3o years before retiring in 2014.
According to Zehringer, Cobb returned to the department a few years ago and now oversees ODNR’s state parks, lodges, golf courses, and special projects.
Cobb spoke to the students about the importance of beginning to consider their future prospects, as well as appreciating the education they are currently receiving.
“The reason you’re having career day today is so you can start thinking about what you’re going to do when you’re on your own,” he said. ”You want to make sure you’re prepared.”
Cobb went on to stress the importance of the education they are receiving and how that will pay off later.
“What they’re training you on here is going to help you tomorrow; it matters,” he said.
Officer Hoehn said his path to ODNR began as a child. He said his passion for working outdoors stemmed from his experiences growing up in the country and hunting with his grandfather.
Hoehn attended Hocking College and was hired as an ODNR game warden in 2002.
According to Hoehn, he was one of 18 employees hired as a warden out of a total of 800 applicants.
He said his responsibilities within ODNR’s Department of Wildlife include poaching enforcement, wildlife management, fish management/population regulation, and assistance in supporting endangered species.
“The Department of Wildlife is multifaceted,” Hoehn said of his position. “I could be doing law enforcement one minute and the next minute rescuing a raccoon from a home.”
Caesar Creek State Park Naturalist Erin Shaw brought two animal “wildlife ambassadors” along with her: Striker, a hawk, and Scout, an owl.
Dean Kelley, of Hocking College, shared information about the college and how it relates to the careers ODNR has to offer.
“Hocking College is kind of unique in that we focus very heavily on natural resources education,” he said. “We have programs specifically in wildlife management, forest management, fish management, ecotourism, parks and museum education, and a lot of really interesting and fun outdoor topics that are a bit different than the normal college and university experiences that you may think of.”
Kelley went on to say that those interested in the types of careers offered by ODNR may benefit from attending Hocking College. He said the college works to get students “job ready,” with a degree, in just two years.
Zehringer, whose term as director is up in January, said he hopes the department’s visit to Fairlawn sparked an interest within students who wish to explore options within the field of natural resources.
“We offer a lot of exciting careers at ODNR,” he said. “If there’s something out there that fits, we hope students will look at Hocking or another local institution, to help gain further education and consider ODNR as a place to work.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.