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A classroom in the great outdoors

In western North Carolina, ​Haywood Community College students compete at the STIHL Timbersports Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Championship, which was held at HCC.

​The lumberjacks and lumberjills of Haywood Community College’s (HCC) "timbersports team" are making a name for themselves nationally. The students have been chopping, sawing, pole climbing and axe throwing their way to victory for more than 15 years. In recent years, HCC has produced two national champions.

The sport is based around traditional logging skills. Though timbersports may not have the following that football or basketball do, they are becoming more popular. Professional timbersports events can be found on ESPN.

“It’s unique,” said Kesi Stoneking, a forest management technology instructor at HCC. “Most of the events go quickly and there’s a lot of variation.”

More than fun and games

HCC’s team competes in five or six competitions a year at the collegiate level, often besting four-year institutions. Win or lose, though, the skills they gain will help many of them in their future careers.

Many of the students on the team are part of HCC’s natural resources program, studying forestry management technology or fish and wildlife management technology. Like the team, the program also is nationally recognized.

The program is more than 40 years old and serves more than 200 students. Students are trained to be “boots on the ground,” according to Shannon Rabby, fish and wildlife management technology instructor.

“They get their hands dirty and take care of our natural resources,” said Rabby, an alumni of the program.

True hands-on learning

Experiential training is one of the things that makes the program unique and the students valuable to employers. Though students also learn to use the newest technology for the field, including geospatial technology, instructors “like to keep more traditional skills sharp,” Stoneking said.

“Almost every day, we’re outside in the field, getting hands-on training,” said Julie Doll, a forest management technology student. Doll is also part of the timbersports team at HCC, which is located in the mountains of western North Carolina, next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“We can literally go out our back door and get experience in everything,” Stoneking said.

Connecting with jobs

The college’s location also gives graduates plenty of job opportunities. HCC has connections to several government agencies and industry and helps students meet with employers. Most graduates from the fish and wildlife management technology program work for government agencies.

The types of jobs students can get are growing, from traditional logging and lumber jobs, to wildlife enforcement officers, to forest recreation and water resource management.

Doll, who is currently in the forest management technology program, has plenty of options open to her. She’ll likely transfer and get a four-year degree before entering the workforce, but she is thinking about a job in park services, possibly something with timber or at a fishery.

“I have never seen a graduate who really wants a job come through the program and not get the job they want,” Rabby said.

And, Stoneking noted, these on-the-ground jobs can’t be outsourced.