Photo courtesy of Humboldt State.
Photo courtesy of Humboldt State.

Wildlife program planning balances caution with opportunity

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Editor’s Note: A version of this story was originally published in the March 24 issue of the Lumberjack. Due to inaccurate reporting, we are issuing a rewrite of the article that more accurately represents the situation as told to us by our original sources.

Like all academic programs at Humboldt State, the wildlife department has had to operate this semester based on plans that were made during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the number of cases has declined for the time being, some students feel ready for more face-to-face instruction.

Daniel Barton, chair of the HSU wildlife department, said that because the decision had to start so far in advance, it meant the department had to be cautious in how it planned for the spring semester.

“Obviously when we were making this decision in the fall, we were asked by the university to provide a schedule and our preferred and planned mode of instruction when the public health situation was looking really bad,” Barton said. “Over the holidays we’re talking 2,000 to 3,000 people a day were dying in the US. So we were conservative and that was our mindset at the time and I think a lot of other people felt the same way.”

Another factor in the decision making process was considerations for faculty. Dale Oliver, dean of the college of natural resources and sciences, said they didn’t want to overload faculty. If a class is both in-person and online, that’s double the work for the instructor with the same pay.

“We were trying to avoid telling a faculty member ‘oh, you have to do two courses,’” Oliver said.

In addition to that concern, the planners making the schedule did not want to make students feel like they had to move to Arcata in the middle of a pandemic.

“I think the main motivation for faculty not having too much face to face is they didn’t want to compel folks to move up here for a limited face, you know, very limited opportunities in the classroom,” Oliver said.

Kylie Berger, a wildlife management and conservation major, is worried about how this might impact her career.

“I feel like with us not being in person, we are lacking a bunch of in-field skills that we should, you know, be able to have before actually being out in the field,” Berger said.

One of Berger’s fall semester classes would have been mostly field work, but the hands-on parts were replaced with videos.

“I feel somewhat unprepared, you know, for what lies ahead for my future career and I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way,” Berger said.

Although Berger feels there could have been attempts made at outside activities because other departments have in-person activities, she said her professors have been supportive.

“[My professors] have been super super helpful and understanding and really willing to work with all of us during this hard time,” Berger said.

Despite limitations that had to be built into the schedule, there are some aspects of the wildlife program that are able to be held in person this spring.

“There are three courses in wildlife that have field trips,” Oliver said. “They’re just not holding lectures or labs face to face.”

As HSU heads into another semester, Oliver believes more in-person classes will be beneficial to students.

“I want to be a good and faithful follower of the recommendations of the state of California,” Oliver said. “But, ideally, I do believe that students will benefit from more face-to-face.”

Oliver thinks there’s more than just hands on instruction lost when classes go virtual and in-person instruction needs to be kept.

“Bottom line, I think face-to-face education is powerful and I would hate to lose it,” Oliver said.

Barton feels in-person activities are important for faculty and students alike.

“I love teaching hands on face-to-face stuff outside,” Barton said. “That’s why I’m here. This hurts, this whole thing. It hurts the students. It hurts us and the reason I do it is not just because, I love seeing students get the opportunity to do those things that then they’re going to go on and try to do in careers. So I miss it, and we do not take lightly that we radically reduced the number of those types of face-to-face opportunities in response to the pandemic.”

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