Five students in the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College student chapter of the Wildlife Society have been awarded the honor of 5-Star Hickory Nut Technician. Dr. Don Althoff, professor of wildlife conservation, created this award to recognize students who have gone above and beyond to assist him with field research monitoring the long-term population trends of the southern flying squirrel in southeastern Ohio over a long period of time. Althoff started the project nearly 20 years ago. He said he enjoys getting the students involved in this project because it provides them with extra hands on experience.
“Assisting with this project is completely volunteer. It isn’t a requirement for the students to participate. They choose to do this because it gives them additional hands-on field experience working with animals,” Althoff said. “Sometimes in this field opportunities to get extra time handling animals can be limited, so this project enhances their skills and creates a scenario where they can implement what they learn in the classroom and the field.”
The Rio students to earn the award this year are John Blazer, Lucy Williams, Bob Miller, Colin Stanly and Adrian Shields. To earn this award, students must assist with at least five different tasks while doing box-checks for the research, ranging from collecting data and equipment management to handling and releasing the squirrels. Althoff said the idea for the award’s name came from the flying squirrel’s favorite food, the hickory nut.
“A few years ago, I decided to start recognizing the students who came out for this project on multiple occasions. The squirrels often leave hickory nut shells behind, so I would tell first-time volunteers they had earned their first hickory nut. It’s always nice to have extra assistance with this project, so I really appreciate how eager they are to participate,” Althoff said. “Receiving the award is similar to being a 5-Star General of flying squirrel research. This research leaves a very lasting impression on the students and gives them more experience for their future careers.”
Bob Miller, a junior wildlife conservation major, said he enjoyed working to earn the award and is grateful Althoff invites the students to take part in the experience.
“This is a great experience. We get to learn more about the flying squirrels and it is actually a lot of fun. I recommend other students take this opportunity because you get to be part of this long-running project, it’s extremely educational and it’s a chance to get out and enjoy nature,” Miller said. “It’s great that Dr. Althoff lets us participate in this by doing hands-on work in this research he has been doing for so long. It’s definitely a memorable experience.”
For more information on Rio’s Wildlife Conservation programs, contact Don Althoff at 740-245-7148.