Hands-on experiences can give college students an advantage when it comes to securing a job after graduation.

The Ecological Restoration Institute, which recently opened in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at UW-River Falls, will offer trainings and certifications including boat safety, chainsaw safety, first aid, tractor training and wildland firefighter training to increase the eligibility, qualifications and marketability of students for jobs in natural resources.

The mission of the institute, part of the Plant and Earth Science Department, is to enhance student skills in natural resource management through hands-on trainings and certifications, as well as teaching and work experiences associated with restoration projects.

“The hands on experiences prepare students for the work place,” said Kelsey Cowart, Ecological Restoration Institute program manager. “They are earning trainings and with the restoration projects, they will be able to use those skills to provide them experience that will help build their resume.

“We want students to engage in all parts of the restoration process in hopes that will make them more marketable to employers and help them earn a job within their career path that much faster.”

The Ecological Restoration Institute will also allow students to pursue a commercial pesticide applicator license and take ATV/off-road education training through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The institute’s restoration projects will provide students with field experience that can be applied to their careers.

One of the current projects involves the management of the open field behind the Agricultural Science building and the greenhouse on campus. The project will offer students experience in restoring native plants and using management practices such as herbicide application, prescribed burning, invasive species removal and water table monitoring. Students will be involved in this project throughout the 2020-21 academic year and beyond.

Cowart said student workers are currently collecting data on the site before starting the restoration process.

“We have ... what we’ve entitled ‘fellows’ who are focusing on data collection for our site,” she said. “Each student has a focus area, wildlife, soil health, and plant diversity to help give us a baseline so we know how our efforts will have an impact on the area with restoration.

“Our management approach has been in the works and we hope to have a clear picture soon.”

Cowart said that while the institute’s trainings in chainsaw, wildland fire, etc., “don’t necessarily have specific relation to the restoration project site, they will help prepare students when it’s time to work on the project.”

The institute is funded through the Environmental Studies Opportunity Fund, a fund created and sponsored by donors to the University Foundation. The fund also provides scholarships to students majoring in conservation and environmental science.

Cowart said the university has offered some of the trainings in the past, but they were at the expense of the students.

“Now we have the institute to cover the cost and are able to offer more trainings to the benefit of the students,” she said.

More information about the Ecological Restoration Institute is available at www.uwrf.edu/PES/ERI.cfm or by emailing kelsey.cowart@uwrf.edu.