The 35 to 50 percent projection of government employees (1.6 million full-time workers) in the natural resources profession retiring within the next several years has prompted Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources to focus its Northern Virginia program to meet the upcoming educational needs.

"In addition to a major expansion of distance learning offerings, we are starting a master's in natural resources to meet the technical brain drain quickly coming with many retirements in the nation's capital, which is the headquarters for federal and many non-profit natural resource agencies," said David Trauger, director of Virginia Tech's natural resources program at the Northern Virginia campus.

"The timing is perfect to grow our program," he explained, "and students are recognizing the local opportunities that are available. Our hallmark is flexibility, so we can tailor the program to meet specific needs of the mid-career student."

Trauger, who is in his third year as program director, said, "Our courses focus on sustainable development in urban environments and sustainable management of natural resources on adjacent rural lands." The program offers a Master of Forestry and now a Master of Natural Resources, as well as a Certificate of Graduate Study in Natural Resources, which is often the best way for a working professional to start.

With an enrollment of 63 students during the spring of 2003, the program has grown rapidly since its establishment in 1997 and is expected to reach 150 soon. Trauger sees the Northern Virginia campus as very different from the Blacksburg campus. "We have some students who have just received their undergraduate degree, but most of our students are older adults who have either been working in or are moving over into the profession," he said.

Trauger works with each student individually to design a course plan to meet his or her needs and expectations. "Offering this program in the capital region where it is needed makes a difference in teaching and research," adds Trauger. The D.C. area continues to be one of the most rapidly developing areas in the United States.

"A large percentage of these students will be transitioning from other disciplines, which is good for the profession. Conservation issues are complex and finding solutions will require all disciplines," Trauger said, who spent 32 years with the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service.

Teaching, research, and outreach are the main interests of the program with a focus on sustainable natural resources in rapidly urbanizing environments. Courses address the complexities of ecological issues related to land and natural resources in rural-urban transitional environments in Northern Virginia. The Natural Resources Program is located in close proximity with the related Virginia Tech programs in urban and regional planning, landscape architecture, and public administration and policy.

"A new partnership with the USDA's Forest Service and Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and its Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning will have global impact on developing the next generation of natural resources leaders," Trauger said. "In the next three years, we will have the best professors and courses in the nation on the distance learning website."

Trauger has been working with the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which will hold a conference on Personal Trends, Education Policy, and Evolving Roles of Federal and State Natural Resources Agencies. The Washington, D.C. conference, slated for Oct. 28 and 29, will showcase how to prepare for the many upcoming retirements and other changes rapidly occurring in the natural resources profession.

The program at Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources has been recognized by peers as among the top five. Areas of studies include environmental resource management; fisheries and wildlife sciences; forestry; geospatial and environmental analysis; natural resource recreation; urban forestry; wood science and forest products; geography; and international development.

For more information on the conference or and the Virginia Tech graduate program contact Dr. David Trauger at dtrauger@vt.edu or (703) 706-8130.

Written by Meredith Long, Public Affairs Intern