Forestry Opportunity: A New Path for Students

    Forestry Opportunity: A New Path

    Bevis Education Center Partners with Hassell & Hughes Lumber Company

    On Nov. 9, 2021, Bevis Education Center, located in Collinwood, Tennessee, announced that they will be partnering with Hassell & Hughes Lumber Company through TCAT Hohenwald‘s Forestry and Ag Technology Program. TCAT Hohenwald got the new program approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents, and they will start offering it the first trimester of 2022. This is an exciting dual enrollment forestry opportunity, a new path for high school and adult students across Wayne County. Heather Warren, Innovative High School Models Grant Director, Jerry W. Hollis Jr., President/CEO of Hassell & Hughes and Larry Pitts, CEO of Tennessee Forestry Association, submitted to interviews about the partnership and provided pertinent information regarding the future program.

    Wayne County is part of a five county pilot that the state is using to promote forestry education. Out of the five counties, Wayne County and Perry County are labeled as “distressed counties” by the Tennessee State Government. 23% of industry in Wayne County is sawmills and lumber; over 50% of Wayne County is timberland. There is a dire need for skilled professionals in the forestry field. Forestry is not currently a program of study in Tennessee high schools. There are 16 career clusters in Tennessee for technical education. Forestry falls under agriculture; however, there is not one program specifically dedicated to forestry. Alabama State Government has already implemented forestry education at the high school level, so Tennessee joined as a state affiliate with Alabama, adopted their curriculum and revised it to better suit Tennessee.

    Heather Warren said, “It just happened that the $2 million Innovative High School Models Grant was open at the same time of this pilot, so we focused the grant on a couple of things with one of those being the implementation of forestry.” Hassell & Hughes Lumber Company, a forestry staple of Wayne County, supported the grant with a written statement of intention to assist through work-based learning, apprenticeships and anything else that they could feasibly provide.

    From the $2 million grant, $1 million was set aside to buy forestry equipment. Unfortunately, the grant could not be used to buy a storage facility for the expensive tools. Rena Purdy, Executive Director of Wayne County Joint Economic and Community Development Board, graciously assisted by writing the Three-Star Grant, a $50,000 grant made possible by Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and the Wayne County Joint Economic and Community Development Board, to pay for the facility. Site preparation is being funded through a grant from South Central TN Development District. Furthermore, TCAT Hohenwald agreed to install heating, cooling and utilities to make the space an actual classroom instead of just a storage building. The forestry classroom will be erected approximately 100 yards from the new Ag Building that is currently under construction.

    Nathan White, the current Collinwood High School agriculture teacher, is going to teach the high school students from Collinwood, Waynesboro and Clifton during the day. White will be teaching with real forestry equipment as well as simulators; a simulator is a virtual reality mechanism used for practice before working with dangerous equipment. Ideally, students will work on the dual enrollment forestry credit one block and work on the work-based learning credit during another block. At night, TCAT Hohenwald will use the same facility to teach adults. Adults can attend TCAT for nearly free tuition through a grant called the Wilder-Naifeh grant if they are residents of Tennessee and do not already have a TCAT diploma. Moreover, Tennessee residents with Associate’s, Bachelor’s and Doctoral degrees from other institutions can also attend TCAT for free through a different program called Tennessee Reconnect, the adult version of Tennessee Promise.

    Not only is TCAT Hohenwald excited for this new program, but all of the TCATs, as well as Columbia State Community College, are extremely interested in starting their own forestry courses because they understand its utter importance in this region. Columbia State wants to create a continuing pathway for students that complete the program through TCAT Hohenwald and receive their Forestry Worker’s Certificate, so TCAT graduates can transfer their credits to pursue an Associate’s with Columbia State and stop there, or they can then transfer the Columbia State credits to University of Tennessee Martin to pursue a Bachelor’s in one of the Natural Resources Management fields. The beauty of the upcoming forestry program with TCAT Hohenwald is that students can choose how far they want to go on their educational journey.

    Jerry Hollis Jr. commented on the new program and potential career opportunities: “There are high-paying, sustainable jobs here that we don’t have good training for; oftentimes educated individuals move away from Wayne County because they do not perceive there to be a job for them. How do we improve that? We want to show kids in Wayne County that you can make a good living here if you learn this trade. When they think of Hassell & Hughes Lumber Company, they think, ‘I don’t want to pull lumber the rest of my life,’ but there are numerous other career opportunities available in this field. We need people who know how to program and run a scanner, we need people in accounting, we need holders, etc. We are trying to get it ingrained into the culture at the institutional level that this forestry opportunity is a viable path going forward. College is not for everyone, and that is okay. If you know you don’t want to go to college, there is no reason to rack up student debt. You don’t have to go to college to get back to where you already are; you can just start here. Now kids can actually train on the equipment before making a big decision to see whether or not they like it. Kids do not even know what equipment is out there. Automation and technology has eliminated a lot of strenuous high-labor positions. We have replaced those repetitive jobs with better jobs that are a little more skilled; they are less physically taxing and wages are better. People who love the outdoors do not always know they can have a lucrative career working outside. Even if you just do the dual enrollment portion and do not move forward, you still come away with better knowledge about the jobs out there and a partial skill set to do those jobs. Hopefully it will be a benefit for not only Wayne County, but this entire area. I think there will be a lot of interest based on the culture here.”

    With over 14 million acres in timberland, forestry jobs are imperative to Tennessee. The upcoming TCAT forestry opportunity will provide insight into this career path that current students lack.

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