From Classroom to Fieldwork: Jacob Wootton ’18 (VIDEO)

Jan 31, 2018

Jacob Wootton and Mike Jones1/31/18

At the world’s largest Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia, Jacob Wootton '18, holding a steel trap, kneels down in the scrubby brush to rescue a feral cat. He quickly scoops up the cat—one of dozens in the region—and places it in a cage. Wootton was helping staff at the Naval Station protect the migratory bird species on base by collecting the cats and finding suitable homes for them.

Fieldwork + Mentorship
Collecting feral cats was just one of many projects that Wootton, an environmental studies major and biology minor, did at his internship at the Naval Station during January Term (J-term). Under the guidance of Mike Jones '02, director of Environmental Planning and Conservation of Commander Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, NAVFAC Mild-Atlantic, Wootton spent most of his days doing fieldwork—an essential part of the work that is done at NAVFAC.

Wootton and Jones also went timber cruising—measuring and evaluating the type and value of trees available to be harvested. These trees will be managed to provide successive habitats for diverse species of birds, mammals and reptiles. They also conducted an inspection of a small-arms range at Yorktown; and Wootton rode along with the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) prevention program, gaining a glimpse into the preventative methods that are used to decrease the risk of bird damage to military aircraft.

"Our goal at NAVFAC is to maintain the land in such a way that it is available to the Navy to support the military's combat readiness mission," says Jones. "The by-products of this goal are healthy ecosystems and habitats, clean air and water, and an abundance of diverse wildlife."

Shadowing the Experts
When he wasn't in the field, Wootton shadowed Jones or a member of the Natural Resources Management team. He also attended a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) class that Jones taught to a group of Civil Engineer Corps Officers (CECOs), and he participated in conference meetings and a legislative/regulation meeting.

"The class Mike taught was a great way to see how the environmental department of the Navy coordinates with CECOs by teaching them about NEPA," says Wootton, "as their development plans must abide by federal laws and regulations to protect the environment. The conference meetings illustrated the diversity within the environmental department: I got to see the critical role that each person plays in making sure the department functions efficiently. And the legislative/regulation meeting taught me how the environmental department of NAVFAC stays up to date with changing federal regulations and legislative bills."

Mike Jones '02
Jones, who majored in environmental studies and minored in biology at R-MC, earned his master's in education and human development from The George Washington University. He also earned a graduate certificate from Old Dominion University in public sector leadership.

At R-MC, he knew he wanted to work outdoors and in a field connected to natural resources, so he did internships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an environmental consulting firm. After graduation, the consulting firm offered him a job as an environmental consultant for Department of Defense agencies. He went on to work as an environmental planner for the U.S. Air Force (USAF).

"Within three years of working with the USAF, I learned that the organization was in transition," he says, "and that my job would transfer to Texas. I decided to make the jump to the U.S. Navy, where I was hired as a biologist." Within the Navy, Jones has held many positions, including his current role in senior management.

Kinesthetic Experiences
Jones says that kinesthetic experiences—in which students learn by carrying out physical activities, rather than by listening to lectures or watching demonstrations—are crucial to the learning process.

"Because of Jacob's fieldwork experiences, he now understands why the U.S. Navy employs biologists to fulfill their global security mission," says Jones. "Through each one of our tasks we have discussed the tie between what it is we were doing and how it helps the Navy accomplish its mission."

Yellow Jacket Connections
Early on in the internship, the two Yellow Jackets realized they had a lot in common—from their passion for environmental studies and biology to their love for football. And both have been taught by Environmental Studies and Biology Professor Chas. Gowan.

Jones, who played football for the Yellow Jackets, says, "R-MC gave me a fantastic foundation for my career. I recall a class I took with Professor Gowan—Science, Salmon, and Society—in which students took on the role of an environmental consulting firm that was hired by a federal agency to analyze the impacts of demolishing a decaying hydroelectric dam. We studied the biology of Pacific Salmon and the social and environmental policies that protected them, wrote a mock environmental impact statement, and met with stakeholders. At the time I didn't realize it, but this type of analysis is exactly what I would be doing for the Air Force and Navy throughout my career: finding a balance between meeting the mission while still protecting and enhancing the environment. I'll always be thankful for the unique opportunities that R-MC provided."

"Working with Mike has been a great experience," says Wootton, a defensive end for the Yellow Jacket football team. "When I was a freshman, Mike came to speak to Professor Gowan's class about his career in environmental studies. When it came time to think about doing an internship, I talked to Professor Gowan, who reached out to Mike. During my internship, I acquired many skills, including forestry and wildlife management, that will be useful in my future career."

Future Plans
Wootton's post-R-MC plans include Officer Candidate School, after which he will enlist in the Navy or the Army.

"I want to serve as an officer, and, after military service, I would like to pursue a career in some aspect of the environmental department of the Navy—perhaps as a natural resource specialist or natural resource manager," he says. "Thanks to my internship, I've seen firsthand what an environmental studies career can be like."

January Term at R-MC
R-MC's January Term (J-term) gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture, embark on an internship, conduct research or explore other areas of study on campus. R-MC's Edge Career Center and dedicated faculty assist students in finding the perfect internship opportunity.

The Edge, a four-year career program, gives students a competitive advantage in the job market or graduate-school admissions process. Workshops, internships, one-on one advising, a career and networking Boot Camp, and other resources ensure that students who graduate from R-MC are lifelong learners who can think critically and adapt to new situations.

R-MC's Bassett Internship program offers academic credit and connects students with tailor-made internships to explore a wide range of career fields in various locations. Students can also choose from a variety of paid or volunteer internship opportunities.