Evan Spencer admits he was a little intimidated when he learned about the number of hours required for his Professional Field Experience class, the semester-long internship he needed to complete in order to earn his STEM studies degree this spring. “I was kind of freaking out because you have to find an internship. 80 hours…Eight zero is a lot on paper. In reality, it’s nothing.”

After working with an advisor to explore his options, Evan signed on for an internship with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. He got to do a ride-along with a game warden, participate in a furbearer necropsy, and work with UVM students studying the effects of stress on Vermont’s moose population—he described a day spent in the Northeast Kingdom this spring, which included a dawn departure into the snowy northern woods in search of moose (or, more accurately, moose feces; the pellets were tested for hormone levels, a useful indicator of stress). In addition to his field work, Evan was also tasked with participating in what’s known as the R3 initiative, a nation-wide effort to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters.

By the end of spring semester, he’d put in 140 hours. “I just jumped right past that 80,” he says. He’d also decided on a career path. “I’m gonna pursue a fisheries and wildlife management degree and/or natural resources conservation,” he says. “I’d like to get right into it.”

He imagines maybe becoming a game warden or other conservation law enforcement officer. “I think it would be a really fulfilling career. Your office is your vehicle—you get a sled, a truck, a boat, and go patrol [an] area…I think that would be really rewarding to work with the community, protect wildlife, and engage in that.”

Today, Evan is a brand new CCV graduate. He is confident in his academic abilities and has a clear sense of where he wants to go in his studies and in his career. But he wasn’t always this certain, and the path to this point was far from a straight line.

In 2012, Evan was a recent graduate of U-32 high school, and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He tried a few classes at CCV. “I think I actually failed my first one,” he remembers. Despite growing up with a sense that he’d someday go on to college, it seemed that the timing was off. “I was always a hard worker,” he said. “I just never worked hard at school.” So he relied on that work ethic to see him through the next few years. Unsure of his future plans, he decided to hit pause on CCV classes and pick up more shifts at Sarducci’s in Montpelier, where he was bussing and then waiting tables. “It helped me develop interpersonal skills,” he says of the restaurant gig. But “at a certain point, I [thought] ‘alright, this is what this industry’s like’…it’s one of those eye-opening things you’re like ‘oh, this is not what I want to do with my life.’”

Evan took a nine-month wilderness survival skills class, worked a job at Allen Lumber, and eventually returned to CCV-Montpelier in 2017. He says by the second time around, he was much more confident in himself and had a better sense of what he wanted to get out of college.

Back at CCV, Evan took on a full course load and signed up for a job as a peer academic mentor in Montpelier’s Learning Center. He served as a member of the Community of Student Representatives, helping to put on events at the center like a Global Social Problems film series. But he says he always prioritized studying. “My academics always came first…I never had a problem putting community duties aside to make sure my academics came first. But through that, it pushed me to engage, when I could, more actively.”

He first started down the path to a STEM studies degree because he knew the credits would transfer easily. And as he learned more about environmental studies and biology, it clicked. “I really like learning about this stuff. I find this interesting—and that really tailored my STEM studies direction.” Eventually, it led to his internship with the Fish and Wildlife Department and his early spring days in the woods.

Evan graduated from CCV on June 1st, along with nearly 500 classmates. He says earning his degree means everything. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work. It’s not the end of the journey, but I think it’s a good start.”

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