The George Washington University
Engineering Management & Systems Engineering Department (EMSE)
Environmental & Energy Management Program (E&EM)

Fall 2003 (Volume 4, Number 2)

E&EM Students Attend RNRF Conference & Volunteer as Recorders

E&EM students Elvin Yuzugullu and Bruk Berhane volunteered as recorders at the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation's (RNRF's) annual national conference on "Personnel Trends, Education Policy and Evolving Roles of Federal and State Natural Resources Agencies," held in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), at their headquarters in Washington DC, on October 28-29, 2003. Elvin and Bruk were responsible for taking notes during conference sessions and the working group meetings. This provided a valuable opportunity to learn more about the recent issues and network with professionals in the area.

The main topics of the conference were:
1) Emerging trends in the federal and state natural-resources management workforces;
2) The role of government in the conservation and management of natural resources;
3) Actions necessary to assure that the required cadre of skilled resource managers will be available in the future to manage the nation’s public lands: How are government agencies responding?; and
4) Updating and expanding the management and technical skills of natural resources professionals.

The first day of the conference was comprised of speeches and panel discussions, with the objective of giving backgound information on the major topics of concern and initiating a platform for further dialogue. Robert Robinson, managing director of Natural resources and Environment at the US General Accounting Office (GAO), gave an overview of the situation at both the federal government in general and natural resource agencies. He indicated that the majority of the workforce consisted of employees over the age of 50 and were expected to retire soon, which would result in a loss of experienced scientists and managers. He also indicated that diversity of the workforce was a growing concern, with the ratio of women to men and also the ratio of minorities as part of the natural agencies' workforce was usually lower than the levels in the government. Mr. Robinson also stressed that human capital challenges were made worse by financial difficulties - an increasing government deficit and a decreasing spending for natural resource agencies.

Sherburne Abbott, director of the Center on Science & Technology and Sustainable development at AAAS, indicated the changing character of conservation sciences at natural resource agencies. She pointed out that conservation science had advanced from an "applied science" to a "sustainability science." She said that this resulted in a greater need for new skill sets, including decision support systems, new technology and tools, and location-based research.

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, commented on how the causes of these trends in natural resource agencies. He indicated that the main reasons for such trends were a lack of interest of recent graduates in working for the government, fewer graduates with the required skills, and inefficient recruiting process of the agencies.

Dr. John Gordon, former dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences at Yale University, addressed the role of the government in conservation and management of natural resources. He emphasized that for sustained systems, government agencies need to create knowledge, regulate, apply location-based management and collaborate on efforts. Dr. Gordon also underscored the fact that a "long-term view" was critical in all aspects of policy formulation and legislation.

The first panel consisted of representatives from USGS, USDA and NOAA and each gave examples of how they were responding to these trends; developing web-based recruiting and communication tools, training recruiters, and developing strategic plans for education. The second panel consisted of representatives from both academic institutions and educational departments of natural resource agencies. They discussed the role of educational institutions in responding to the trends in agencies. It was emphasized that students need a more interdisciplinary education to respond to changes in agencies and that partnerships between educational institutions and agencies should be formed. It was also emphasized that the effort of interesting students in natural resources should begin at earlier stages (high-school level) and that mid-career education (certificate programs) should not be overlooked.

The second day of the conference consisted of a series of working group meetings, aimed at discussing the issues raised during the conference in more detail and to develop a set of ideas and recommendations that will be documented in report. E&EM doctoral student Elvin Yuzugullu was responsible as a recorder for taking notes at the discussions titled "New Responsibilities for Educatiopnal Institutions." The working groups talked about what role educational institutions play in assuring that the required set of skilled resource managers will be available in the future. The main points made were that:

- More flexibility is needed (in terms of course requirements, work opportunities);
- Cross-disciplinary training should be encouraged;
- Diversity is a major concern, therefore sensitivity on this issue should be practiced and programs should be developed to accomodate the needs and interests of minority students;
- Effective partnerships with natural resource agencies should be developed to enhance the understandings of both the students and agency personnel and to encourage interest in public-sector opportunities;
- Education should go back a step to high-school level. the interest of students should be captured and necessary information and tools should be introduced at this stage; and
- The results of the RNRF conference and especially the issues discussed during the working groups should not end at the conference- the discussion should be continued by each conference attendee further informing their own organization and also by additional meetings being held with related organizations.

E&EM graduate student Bruk Berhane was responsible as a recorder for taking notes at the discussions titled " Effects of demographic Shifts in federal and State Workforces." The working groups discussed the demographic trends, why they are occurring and what governments are doing in response.

Jonathan P. Deason, Ph.D., Lead Professor