Career and technical education for high school students will be taking new shape in Oregon following the passage of Ballot Measure 98 last November. Career and technical education (formerly known as vocational education) has historically been an important part of Oregon’s public school programming. But, over the past 30 years, these opportunities have diminished in schools across the state.

Since 2015, Peter Matzka, OSU’s Extension Forest Educator at the Hopkins Demonstration Forest near Beavercreek, has been quietly leading an effort to bring back interest in natural resources vocational education in Oregon. Working with Matzka has been Rob Waibel, long-time forestry and natural resources instructor at North Clackamas School District’s Sabin Schellenberg Center in Milwaukie. Waibel’s high school programs have been bringing students to the Hopkins forest for more than two decades to provide real-live, hands-on, in-the-woods field experiences.

“We need young people who have basic forestry and natural resources skills who want to work in careers in our forests and wildlands of the state,” said Matzka. “And, this isn’t your grandfather’s forest anymore. Jobs can be high-tech, involve computer technology, engineering and math skills, not to mention biology and science. After all, Oregon is the leading forestry state in the U.S. High school forestry and natural resource programs should be a big deal here.”

Matzka and Waibel have been working with a small group of six high schools around Oregon still delivering forestry and natural resource career and technical education. Their goal has been to create a student organization to band the school programs together, change the focus to a much broader array of natural resource topics and needs, build educational opportunities and career development events for the students and teachers, and develop the next generation of leaders for the natural resource sector of the state.

In 2016 the Oregon Future Natural Resource Leaders became an officially recognized Career Technical Student Organization by the Oregon Department of Education—thanks to the efforts of Matzka and Waibel—plus, the community non-profit Forests Forever, Inc. (FFI) and its Hopkins Demonstration Forest. FFI is providing the oversight for the new student organization and financial management within its corporate structure. The Hopkins forest provides the field location for statewide trainings for students and teachers that will occur throughout the year.

According to Waibel, “This is an amazing opportunity for us, locally, and for high school students and teachers all around the state. With an officially sanctioned organization by the Oregon Department of Education, we are now in line for funding support to build these programs and reach more students. We already have grown from the original six high schools wanting to work with us to 9 with 5 more interested in joining next year. We think 2017 is going to be a great year the Oregon Future Natural Resource Leaders!”