Earth Team | Apprentice Program
The Apprentice Program Is a Huge Success in Kansas
"My experience with the NRCS was a very pleasant, educational time that taught me about the services that USDA/NRCS brings to agriculture communities and to our whole society."
This is how Drew Winder, a 2006 apprentice, described his experience with the NRCS Kansas Apprentice Program (KAP). The program began in Kansas in the summer of 1998. The goal of the program is to acquaint students with the importance of conserving natural resources. It can be described as an "offshoot" of the Earth Team volunteer program that acquaints volunteers with different aspects of NRCS's field and office work.
However, the KAP is unique in the sense that participants are learning through practical experience. Jan Klaus, Office Assistant and Earth Team Coordinator, is at the NRCS Hays Area Office, said "Many volunteers are retired individuals or individuals who already have knowledge and experience in the field of resource conservation. With KAP, the apprentices, like our volunteers, are willing to donate their time, but may be a novice to the field."
The program is structured to serve as an educational experience for the apprentice and still allow the individual to make a contribution to the organizational mission: "Helping People Help the Land." Some activities that an apprentice may be involved in include engineering surveys, staking terraces and ponds, water quality activities, environmental education, and natural resource camps.
The program does not require a background in agriculture but does require a strong passion for conservation of natural resources. The district conservationists served by the Hays Area Office marketed the program to local high schools and successfully recruited six apprentices for the 2006 fiscal year. This type of enthusiasm has landed Kansas among the leading states for volunteer hours.
KAP 2006 Apprentice Team and Their Experiences
Drew was involved in a variety of tasks at the field office where he worked. Some of his duties included office tasks and rangeland practices. Drew's favorite part of the apprenticeship was learning to evaluate different types of grasses and forbs in a pasture and then making recommendations as to how the pasture could be improved.
"The NRCS offers very useful programs to get young people involved in conservation early."
Kevin provided field and office assistance at the field office where he worked. In addition, he was involved in surveying and global positioning system (GPS) operations. He learned how to use a laser, hand level, survey rod, measuring wheel, and GPS unit during his apprenticeship. Kevin found his most enjoyable moments were while working in the field.
When asked why he chose to complete the apprenticeship, Kevin stated, "It will help me learn what the NRCS does and help when I am farming myself."
Kaid assisted the field office with livestock water pipeline surveys and checkouts, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) windbreak checkouts, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program brush management, status reviews, and office tasks. He also met many new people through his program. Kaid plans to someday pursue a career in wildlife management.
"It's a great opportunity for any high school student looking for a career in any conservation service."
Kattie's apprenticeship included tasks such as assisting with construction checkout, participating in moisture monitoring for irrigation scheduling, painting a "soil tunnel" for an educational program, taking photos of conservation practices, and office tasks. The apprenticeship provided an opportunity for Kattie to experience something different from her typical lifestyle. In the future, Kattie hopes to stay active at the field office.
"I learned more about agriculture than I knew existed."
During his apprenticeship, Ben assisted with two waterway surveys, helped stake terraces, and communicated with landowners. The highlight of his time in the field office was learning about grazing and rangeland management. Ben also enjoyed working in the field with his supervisor.
"I got to go out and be in the community and learn about the watershed project they were working on. If anybody wants to learn more about the environment, this is the program to participate in."
Sarah was exposed to terrace planning, surveying, conservation planning, range management, and geographic information systems (GIS) operations throughout her experience. She feels her apprenticeship provided a great deal of first-hand conservation experience. Sarah enjoyed best the job duties that allowed her to work outdoors.
"It was a fun experience that exposed me to different things. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot."