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The UM connection: Professors make case for higher education at Lone Peak High School

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Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 4:00 pm

Jolene Keller

Lone Peak Lookout

"What do you want to do when you graduate?" It's a question that plagues high school students nationwide. Of course, Lone Peak High is no different.

What is different for LPHS students are the unique careers available to them. They could take on the task of restoring the largest superfund site in the country, battle wildfires, manage ski resorts, study water quality, elk migrations or even the effects of changes in the snowmobile industry.

A little nudge in the right direction can make all the difference for some kids, and the faculty at LPHS and several professors from the University of Montana teamed up to enlighten students on a few of the possible paths their futures might take during the third University of Montana Day at LPHS on Monday, Feb. 7.

 "The University of Montana Day means exposure to higher education opportunities and future careers," said Ophir School District Superintendent Andrea Johnson. "The day also means stimulating curiosity for higher learning and opportunities to shadow university students doing actual research in the field such as the Greater Yellowstone. It also provides an opportunity to see scientific research in action and hear how it is impacting our world."

The informative session was initiated a year ago by Rick Graetz, a professor at UM and part-time Big Sky resident, who has done numerous studies around the state and world. The University of Montana was starting courses on field research in Yellowstone and wanted to get prospective young researchers involved.

"This partnership is a dynamic possibility for Lone Peak," said Graetz. "Small schools need a reason to stand out. This is a great reason for students to come out and study. I really like Lone Peak's thinking - it's not an ordinary high school that just hums along, and I think UM can be a part of it. It's a great ecosystem right outside the door and these kids have a great opportunity."

 Graetz started out the day on Monday with an informative lecture on the importance of southwest Montana - calling it the foundation of the state and delving into the history of white gold that was found in the area. He sparked interest in the students by sharing his enthusiasm for the history and geography of southwest Montana.

UM Professor Bob Crabtree followed with a lecture on research work in Yellowstone Park and opportunities in research for students - such as invasive spread and impacts like weeds and pathogens, insect outbreaks, science related technology, and ecological forecasting. He spoke to the students regarding "bridging the gap" between institutionalized training and "real world research."

 Crabtree is founder and chief scientist of the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center (YERC) and has been conducting ecological research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for nearly 20 years.

Dr. Perry Brown, University of Montana Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, rounded out the day with an overview of the many degree options in the College of Forestry and Conservation.

 Currently around 70 percent of the students in UM's College of Forestry and Conservation are non-residents. The hope is to bring more Montanans - with their intimate knowledge of the land - into the program.

"There's all kinds of job opportunities available here," said Brown. "And there's a lot of fun things. Plus, our grads get to do what Rick, Bob and I do - go to work in a field where everybody else pays to play. We float down rivers, see the land from a plane. People pay for that, and it's our job."

Brown highlighted programs that the forestry college does well. This includes a brand new program, Wild Land Restoration, that is currently the fastest growing program in the UM Natural Resources Department. One of the possible opportunities stemming from this degree is the restoration of the massive superfund site located nearby UM that runs along the interstate from Missoula all the way to Butte.

 Another pressing issue the college offers a program in is climate change. UM was the first university in the country to offer an undergrad minor that looks at climate change issues, focusing on science, society and solutions. UM currently has one of the world's leading scientists, Steve Running, studying climate change.

The morning-long presentation ended with an invitation for students to see science in action; they had the opportunity to shadow Graetz over the upcoming weekend. The group will talk to businesses in West Yellowstone about how things have progressed since snowmobile rules changed. They'll do research on elk migrations in the winter, and they'll visit with the executive director of the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

The lectures ended around lunchtime, but on their way out several students made sure to sign up for the weekend program.

Chris Goode, an LPHS junior, appreciated the presentation.

 "It's good to have a University like U of M to help provide more opportunities for learning," he said later that day.

 Superintendant Johnson was also pleased with how the day turned out.

"LPHS is honored to have the opportunity to have Dr. Rick Graetz, Dr. Robert Crabtree, and, Dr. Perry Brown on our campus," said Superintendent Johnson. "Their partnership and support will help us to pursue academic excellence, infuse our interdisciplinary curriculum, and capitalize on our unique environment and location. We are very fortunate to have such high caliber support for LPHS's efforts to embrace place-based education and project-based learning/experiential learning. The University of Montana is committed to providing students with a stimulating intellectual atmosphere to inspire students and faculty. We also share this aspiration for Lone Peak High."

© 2015 Big Sky - Lone Peak Lookout . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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