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FORCES for Good: An experiential learning program for college students

Photo © Carlin Shew

By Robyn Bailey, NestWatch Project Leader

This year, the New York State Parks system has a major anniversary—100 years of connecting people to the great outdoors and safeguarding water, wildlife, and botanical resources! So this month, we are highlighting a program that adds value to the lives of college students while also benefiting New York State Parks in the Finger Lakes, Niagara, and Central Regions of the state. The FORCES Program (short for Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship) was launched in 2008 with the intention of boosting and growing volunteerism within state parks. The program creates opportunities for students to get firsthand experience with job skills necessary for careers in environment and recreation, while helping state parks enhance their natural resource improvement projects.

Fun in the Field

Fun in the Field

Collecting data for NestWatch gives college students practical experience with biology.

Carlin Shew, Program Specialist for the Finger Lakes Region, is responsible for overseeing several projects. One of these is a system of about 30 nest boxes that she and FORCES “Stewards”—as the students are called—monitor across three parks: Taughannock Falls State Park, Allan H. Treman Marina State Park, and Robert H. Treman State Park. According to Carlin, “These boxes were installed to enhance bluebird habitat and, although other species do use them, we’ve had a lot of success keeping track of our bluebird nest data with NestWatch. It is great to contribute to such a great local organization. NestWatch is a great resource for students to learn about participatory science and get some hands-on experience with wildlife conservation as interns with State Parks.”

Gaining Life Experience

Gaining Life Experience

That first look into a nest box can spark a lifelong interest in the great outdoors.

The FORCES Stewards also work on other Parks projects such as guided history tours, invasive species management, water quality assessments, trail improvements, and creating environmental education programs. Since the program began tracking the number of Stewards participating (in 2014), there have been 726 FORCES Stewards engaged, and the program is aiming to expand to other regions of the state. At NestWatch, we love the idea of students gaining valuable experience with participatory science, wildlife management, informal education, and outdoor recreation and feel this program could be a successful model for other state parks around the nation. You can visit the FORCES website to learn more about this interesting program, and leave us a comment below if you have done NestWatch with college students or Parks volunteers in your community.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology