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Fall 2008 - Forestry

Destination Purdue > Fall 2008 - Forestry

Forestry class gives students an edge

By Amber Miller

When students want more more than lectures, there is a Forestry and Natural Resources course that provides hands-on learning with cutting-edge equipment.

Daniel Warner Forestry

Photo provided by Amber Miller

Daniel Warner, a staff member in the Forestry and Natural Resources department, demonstrates how to properly open a log on the Wood-Mizer, a portable sawmill.

"Basically, all of (the course) is real world experience," said Dan Cassens, professor of forestry and natural resources. "It lets students see what the industry does. All the information we cover is from the industry, not a textbook."

That approach suits Ahmed Arif just fine because he knows the wood products industry is constantly changing. "One month things may be done one way, another month another way," said Arif, a senior mechanical engineering technology major from Indianapolis.

The course exposes students to the processes and products that help the industry turn unfinished wood logs into the finished products you will find in stores. It also offers students the hands-on experience they need before entering the industry and helps them understand the many types of wood and their uses.

"The project we were assigned at the beginning of the course is my favorite part," said Arif. Students visited a wood manufacturing company and shared what they learned with the rest of the class.

Students understand more by learning from each other, Cassens said. When students share what they've learned from outside companies, it is more like they are talking among themselves instead of receiving a lecture, he said.

The course's big event is the day when students get to use the Purdue Wood-Mizer, a portable sawmill. Students take what they've learned in class and put it into practice by opening a log and cutting individual boards. The hands-on learning the sawmill provides teaches students more about the properties of wood and the proper way to cut boards.

"As far as the class is concerned, this is probably the best day for the students because it gets them out of the classroom," said Daniel Warner, a forestry and natural resources technician.

Warner isn't just a staff member, he's a former student who now teaches others. Warner said his experience with the course was great, because it exposed him to what wood products are all about. He said it also exposed him to the things he loved most about the industry: working with wood and making things with his hands. Working with wood isn't just Warner’s career, it's his passion.

The course draws students from across the university for the hands-on experience. For those who are simply interested in wood, the course offers insights into the industry. For those who are familiar with the industry, it offers the latest information and techniques.

Engineering students find the course especially helpful, because it expands their knowledge of materials other than the metal and concrete they focus on in other courses.

Companies need employees who have knowledge of the forestry community and this course helps engineering and technical students fill that void, said Cassens.

"I have always had an interest in woodworking," said Arif. "Being a mechanical engineer, the focus (in other classes) is on metal, but this class has given me a basic understanding of different wood species and how they can be applied in various scenarios."

And in Indiana, a lot of scenarios call for wood. "What most people do not recognize is the importance of wood production manufacturing in Indiana," Cassens said. "The forest products sector is the sixth largest in the state and first in the agricultural manufacturing sector for the number of jobs and average salary."

That comes as a surprise to many students. The course offers other surprises, too. "I didn't expect to learn about the methods used to harvest lumber from the forest," said Arif. "A lot of time is spent understanding the process of converting a tree into usable lumber."