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An Earth Team Volunteers’ Walkabout Experience

Volunteer Walkabout ExperienceThe Walkabout originated as a spiritual rite of passage during which adolescent male Aborigines journeyed through the Outback for up to six months.  The Graham School, a unique charter school in Columbus, Ohio, gives senior class students an opportunity to engage in a two-quarter Walkabout based on the school’s philosophy of “Enlivening the human spirit by experiencing the concerned and positive ways mature, wise adults interact with teenagers and serve as role models for them.” The student decides what he or she wants to learn from the Walkabout experience and a mentor helps the student find venues for the learning experience.  

As an avid bee enthusiast, Graham School senior Chris Cree likes the natural sciences, like biology and industries rooted in nature, like agriculture.  A family friend knew the NRCS State Conservation Engineer in Columbus and told him about Chris. The engineer contacted the State Earth Team Coordinator and after she met with Chris’s mentor, Chris became a volunteer student intern.  In February, 2013, Chris took the first step on his Walkabout as an Earth Team Volunteer.

During the eight weeks of his first quarter ET Walkabout, Chris shadowed NRCS staff in the field getting conservation on the ground.  He worked with wetland specialists planning restorations by examining soils, critical species habitat, and crafting engineering designs.  District Conservationist Mary Ann Core fed Chris’s avid appetite, letting Chris research and design a conservation plan for pollinator habitat, complete with Chris’s name on the plan.  Working with Mary Ann, Chris met a local organic farmer who supplies restaurants with herbs and vegetables nearly year-round using high tunnels.  Chris liked the farm so much he decided to do his second eight week quarter working on her farm. 

To highlight National Volunteer week, an Ohio State University Environmental Professional networking group scheduled time for Chris to tell his Walkabout story.  Hopefully these environmental leaders spread the word and inspire future volunteers.   In Chris’s future, North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College awaits his arrival this fall.  He’ll arrive armed not only with real-life experience gained through the Earth Team, but with information on the NRCS Pathways program for college interns.  His Walkabout may lead right back to where it began.