REC major brings diverse job opportunities, alumni reflect on program and industry experiences

REC major prescribed burn

Reclamation, environment and conservation (REC) is a growing field continuing to bring professional opportunities to UW-Platteville students. The REC program is led by Dr. Christopher Baxter, Professor of soil and crop science in the School of Agriculture, who said there is great demand for employment. Through the interdisciplinary coursework and combined hands-on experience, Pioneers are finding themselves working in different facets of the industry across the country.

“It’s a small program, but our graduates are in high demand,” said Baxter. “Graduates still find jobs in more traditional reclamation work such as mine reclamation, but many find employment with public institutions like the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and with private ecological services and land management companies. Some have even started their own companies and work independently as consultants. Feedback from employers indicates that they are attracted to REC majors because of their strong background in physical and natural sciences, as well as their practical knowledge and experience with a variety of land management techniques.”

Alumna Michelle Cliff ’18 is a Soil Conservationist at USDA-NRCS at the Barron (Wisconsin) Field Office. She works to develop conservation practices to address environmental resource concerns. Cliff acknowledges how the REC program embraced many fields of study from geography, soils, geology, engineering, and biology, which has been beneficial to her career.

“I have a diverse set of skills to work with anyone in the field because of the foundation that I have from my time in the program,” said Cliff. “The REC program values learning in the field whether it is helping with native prairie restoration or prescribed burning on campus to joining clubs such as the soils team. The field experiences I had at UW-Platteville will always be the part of my education that I credit to have been the most influential to me.”

As Karlee Ketelboeter ’19 navigated her collegiate career, she found out she wanted to work outdoors. A friend introduced her to the REC program, stating, “I never looked back. The more I learned about it [REC] the more I loved it.”

Ketelboeter is a Restoration Specialist at Quercus Land Stewardship Services in Black Earth, Wisconsin. 

“The major experience I had at UW-Platteville that helped me get to where I am today was being active in the Reclamation Club,” she said. “Going to workdays and holding positions definitely helped me get an internship with the DNR to working on State Natural Areas.”

The REC Club is a student organization on campus affiliated with the American Society of Reclamation Sciences. Members of the club are from all different majors, but all have an interest in reclamation, ecological restoration, and improving local communities. According to Baxter, the club does a lot of work locally including assisting the Platteville Community Arboretum and the Southwest Chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts.

“We help mainly with invasive species control and revegetation projects. This involves brush and/or tree clearing and planting native adapted plant species. We also conduct prescribed burns both on and off campus which aid in controlling invasive and stimulates native plant communities,” he said. “The REC Club gives students practical and hands-on knowledge and skills that they can use to help find them jobs in the future. It helps them learn about the local ecosystems, how they operate, and what type of organizations are involved. It makes a lot of professional connections for students.”

The REC Club, along with field work and labs, were valuable assets for 2012 alumnus Dan Mumm, who is a Study Lead for the Closure Team at Rio Tinto in Salt Lake City, Utah. In his position, he’s leading a project in researching ways to reuse or repurpose lands that were previously mined and reclaimed.

“The [field work and labs] may have seemed long and arduous at the time, but it provided the well-rounded education needed to be successful,” said Mumm. “Additionally, being involved with REC Club and working with local organizations to complete volunteer work was a beneficial to supplement my education.”

Mumm also highlights networking with alumni. Through his UW-Platteville connections, Mumm had the opportunity to move out west.

“The alumni of the REC program are a great resource for knowledge and job opportunities,” he said. “I was able to get an internship in New Mexico that resulted in my full-time job after graduation because of the alumni working there. We had a reunion for the 30th anniversary of the REC program when I was in college where I was able to meet the alumni group and talk about their experiences. That was a great time and really opened my eyes to the career opportunities with a REC degree.”

With campus returning to a traditional setting for the first time since March 2020, Baxter, a 1994 graduate of UW-Platteville, is entering his 18th year teaching at the university. He said one of the most rewarding aspects of his profession is watching his students’ careers flourish. 

“It’s always a highlight when you stay in contact with students,” said Baxter. “I know a lot of students who have gone through the REC program throughout the years and to see them going out having successful careers, going on to grad school, and doing really good work that I know is helping our society – it’s the best thing about being a professor.”