Missouri Western is the only university in the state that has a Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) office located right on its campus. The MDC Northwest Regional Office sits on James McCarthy Drive on the way out to the baseball field. To some students, this might be brand new information–it’s usually just another building that they drive by everyday.
Biology students, on the other hand, know about the MDC all too well. The Northwest Regional Office is actually where a lot of their coursework takes place. It houses two labs specifically for Missouri Western students, and Biology department chair Dr. Mark Mills said the office acts as a base station for many of their projects.
“They’ve been really helpful in sort of that connection of getting our students hands-on experience beyond the hands-on experience that... we would be giving them anyway,” Mills said.
On top of coursework, the MDC takes many Missouri Western students as interns, employees or volunteers, and gives them real-world experience in the field. MDC Private Land Conservationist Jeff Powelson said this mutual relationship gives Missouri Western students valuable experience heading into the job market.
“It goes both ways because we’ve set up studies and we needed their help for the manpower. They’ve come up with studies, and we’ve given them the how-to,” Powelson said. “We use each other a lot.”
In the past, students have volunteered to sample fish on the Missouri River, help with deer, quail or butterfly surveys and even lead educational programs. Robert Bremer, a wildlife conservation and management major, works hourly at the Northwest Regional Office as a forestry technician.
“They like it when we’re able to work with them and they can work with us,” Bremer said. “It looks good, and the community appreciates it because we do a lot of hard work and do a lot of outreach and education things.”
Bremer first heard about the job opportunity when someone from the MDC spoke in one of his classes at Missouri Western. He now hopes to one day work there full-time.
However, Mills believes that the MDC is a resource to be used by everyone, not just biology students.
“It’s sort of the best kept secret on campus,” Mills said.
The office houses an array of brochures on local outdoor activities, and their staff is available to answer any nature-related questions. If you aren’t from St. Joseph and are looking for some hiking trails, the MDC can point you in the right direction. Need a fishing license? No problem. Have an animal question? They can help you with that, too.
MDC also offers many programs throughout the year. Programs came to a halt due to COVID-19, but the office has recently reopened and hopes to safely work their way into offering them once again. Powelson said these programs can be about anything outdoors, ranging from hunter's education to master gardening to fly-fishing. The majority of these programs are free.
“I think that [MDC] location has just given students at Missouri Western an opportunity to branch out and for us to connect people to nature,” Powelson said. “To me, it’s a win-win to get young adults involved and at least have a better awareness of the outdoors.”
Powelson said that with the pandemic, there’s no better way to help yourself mentally than by going outside, and the MDC can help you find where to go and what to do as long as you’re willing to ask.