The Arkansas Wildlife Federation (AWF) recognized University of the Ozarks for the conservation volunteerism of its faculty, staff and students during the organization’s 2018 Conservation Achievement Awards ceremony, held July 28 in White Hall, Ark.
The AWF presented U of O representatives with a Special Conservation Award for the University’s almost decade-long assistance in the Bearcat Hollow Cooperative Habitat Project. The restoration project is a volunteer-based weekend gathering that helps preserve, restore and revitalize a section of the Ozarks National Forest to ensure ecosystem health for plant, wildlife and stream conditions.
Those representing U of O at the awards ceremony were Dr. Kim Van Scoy, professor of environmental studies; Bendex Stevenson, assistant dean of students and director of student engagement; current student Erika Henderson and former student Hailie Tolich.
University students, faculty and staff have been volunteering for the annual day of service — typically held in the fall — for the past nine years. The effort has been coordinated and organized by the Ozarks Outdoors organization in conjunction with the environmental studies program.
“We’ve probably had 200 different students take part in the project over the last nine years,” said Stevenson, the former director of Ozarks Outdoors. “It’s been a great opportunity for our students to take part in experiential learning — taking what they’ve learning in the classroom about conservation and restoring natural habitats and getting a hands-on experience.”
Ozarks is one of several universities in the state that take part in the project. Other organizations that are involved include, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Arkansas Forestry Commission and The Nature Conservancy.
“This has also been a great networking opportunity for our students,” Stevenson said. “Many of the students who volunteer on this trip are environmental studies majors or other students who want a career in conservation, non-profits or the outdoors. This is a perfect opportunity for those students to start meeting the leaders and influencers in these organizations and agencies.”
Also at the awards ceremony, U of O alumna Lauren Ray was recognized as the 2018 Conservation Educator of the Year for her “outstanding performance in conservation education.” A 2013 graduate of Ozarks, Ray is a park ranger for the Buffalo National Scenic River. Her creative and unique song parodies and videos has helped promote safety, conservation and the history of the Buffalo River and have received national recognition from such media outlets as OutsideOnline, Adventure-Journal.com and NowThis.