Pacific Union College has launched a groundbreaking collaboration with St. Helena High School, giving students the opportunity to learn how technology is applied to the environmental challenges they face in their own local communities and beyond — including severe drought and wildfires.
The 10-week class will meet in person on PUC’s campus and provides the students with the chance to earn college credit.
“It is very cutting-edge and taps into multiple local interests, blending them together in a very modern way,” St. Helena High School principal Benjamin Scinto said.
The new partnership with St. Helena High comes as PUC launches a first-of-its-kind conservation technology undergraduate program. Led by Scott Butterfield, the program prepares students for careers in environmental-based professions – including conservation technology.
Students completing the four-year degree program will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Conservation Technology.
Butterfield serves as PUC’s Clark Professor of Conservation Technology. A local ecologist, he is the lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s land program and strategic restoration strategy in the San Joaquin Valley. Butterfield has more than 20 years of experience in the conservation field, with more than 40 published peer-reviewed articles and reports.
The term “conservation technology” is relatively new, but the application of technology in environmental management is not, Butterfield said. Older technology such as GPS, GIS, and wildlife cameras have been used in a range of scientific fields. Scientists also use more modern tools including remote sensing, drones, artificial intelligence, coding/programming, eDNA, and mobile applications.
Butterfield’s course introduction usually begins with talking about some of the technology that students are already familiar with. But there is new technology constantly emerging.
“We’re in this wave people call the third industrial revolution and conservation technology is part of that,” Butterfield said. “Environmental stressors are so severe that now there’s a field building up around it. Technology is currently being developed and applied specifically for environmental challenges. It’s an exciting time!”
Conservation technology students may go on to have careers in environmental science or biology, but they are not limited to these fields. “These skills and the tools students learn about are broadly applicable across the workforce,” Butterfield said. “They are going to touch down in many different jobs and fields of study in the future.”
The partnership with St. Helena High is part of PUC’s renewed commitment to outreach in local communities. Although St. Helena is only 10 miles from the college, many in the community know little about it.
“It’s a great way for PUC to give back to the community and also let them know what’s being offered at the college,” Butterfield said.
The St. Helena High students themselves know first-hand how vital environmental issues are and the challenges not only facing Northern California but the world at large.
“In the world right now, all we see in the news is big environmental crises happening, from sea level rise and increased fire threats to tsunamis, hurricanes, and global warming,” said Butterfield, a parent of St. Helena High students.
“Covid aside, we’ve had a lot of stressors here in our environment in the last two years. We’ve been evacuated twice because of wildfires, which are being driven by forest management and climate change. We’ve recently gone through extreme heat waves. Just a few weeks ago we had 110-degree heat, which is Palm Springs weather.”
The nearly two dozen St. Helena High students will take the Introduction to Conservation Technology course, which will introduce them to technology in the conservation and science fields. PUC is providing transportation for students to attend class on campus.
“If students know enough about environmental issues and how they can be confronted, they can sort through them and have a more educated understanding of news that affects them,” Butterfield said.
One day, Butterfield hopes those who take the course and enroll in the undergraduate program will go on to fulfilling careers in the environmental sciences and perhaps, he said, even one day take his own job.
PUC offers a College Early program where students can earn up to six credits at a reduced cost. Lindsay Morton, PUC’s assistant academic dean, said college can be a “costly endeavor and the transition from high school can be tough.”
“We want to make that transition easier by offering students in-person and online courses at a reduced rate, so they get ahead of the curve and have a taste of college before they arrive on campus,” she said.
“Although we love our college on the mountain,” Morton said, “we can see the need for support and resources in our academies and high schools.
Scinto said he is an advocate for dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment opportunities for students. St. Helena High offers 13 college-level courses.
“The course Scott described is unlike anything we offer at SHHS, an aspect I felt capitalized on various student interests,” Scinto said.
In a letter recently published in the St. Helena Star, Scinto thanked the St. Helena High School Parent Group and the St. Helena Public Schools Foundation for sponsoring students attending the Conservation Technology course taught by Butterfield.
“PUC is a tremendous local resource,” Scinto said. “I look forward to future collaborations.”