Sharing nature’s inspiring classroom
Sixteen miles down a gravel road, surrounded by state and federal lands, in a place where one can hike for five days and not see any roads lies the perfect location for students to gain hands-on learning in the areas of forestry, fisheries and wildlife. And it’s the quintessential spot for outdoors-loving faculty.
Jennifer Schieltz, assistant teaching professor, joined the faculty in Iowa State’s natural resource ecology and management department in March 2017. She was hired to be the camp director of the Rod and Connie French Conservation Education Camp, otherwise known as the Montana Camp, located approximately 50 miles west of Missoula, Montana. Schieltz spends her fall and spring semesters teaching courses on Iowa State’s campus in Ames, Iowa, and her summers instructing students at the Montana Camp.
“It combines all the things I love to do – fieldwork and teach students,” Schieltz says of her director role. “I like that no two days are the same. It’s the perfect mix of being outdoors and still inspiring and interacting with students.”
The position proved to be a perfect career transition for Schieltz, who had been traveling to Kenya for several months each of the previous five years as part of earning her doctorate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. While in Africa, she studied how cattle grazing impacted wildlife in the area.
Just as Schieltz did in Kenya, students in Montana Camp classes get to experience an ecosystem that is very different than the one found in Iowa. They learn to identify plants and animals, go on hikes to explore the wilderness, conduct research related to animal behavior and so much more.
Zoe Houseman (’21 animal ecology) took three classes at the camp during her time at Iowa State. She said she feels she learned more about wildlife and field ecology than she would have in a lecture course and it provided insight into what a research career would entail.
“This really shows you what working in the field is like so you can see if that is actually what you want to do for a living,” Houseman says. “For most of my friends, these classes got them even more excited about finding a research job.”
The camp is managed by the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, but any student at Iowa State can take classes there. Schieltz says a new course in summer 2021 brought together art and science students. The “Science + Design: Interpretation of Natural Resources” course had students working together to create interpretive signs and other visual materials to be installed at trail heads and campgrounds to educate the public and communicate science.
Schieltz invites Iowa State alumni to get involved at the camp and consider contributing toward scholarships that allow students to take courses.
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The Montana Camp is situated on land donated to Iowa State University by Rod (’10 honorary) and Connie French in 2015. What used to a be a hunting lodge and restaurant has been converted into a classroom, a dining hall and living quarters for students and instructors. The property also includes a laundry building and storage buildings. Learn more about the camp by visiting its website and find opportunities to support student scholarships by contacting Bobbi Smith, CALS senior director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.