Caroline Crews. Photo courtesy of Lala Hilizah (C’21).
Along the Welsh Ridge, Caroline Crews (C’21) led a group of students through the thick brush of the Smoky Mountains, freezing rain leaving fingers numb and morale dangerously low. Painfully exhausted, Crews was desperate for a way to deter the hikers from focusing on the hapless circumstances.
In a moment of luck, she noticed a spiny burr resting on the edge of the trail, and after a few steps, she swiftly looked up and saw an American chestnut. Crews halted, turning to her group with a smile. It’s excitement like this that engrossed Crews’s interest in the natural resources and the environment major at Sewanee.
“I initially assumed it was a Chinese chestnut because the chestnut blight has almost eradicated American chestnuts from our forests. I grabbed a leaf and felt it was glabrous, which means all the leaves were smooth and they didn’t have hairs,” Crews added.
This discovery of the subcanopy trees along the ridge stemmed from her experiences in an introductory forestry class, demonstrating how Crews’s knowledge goes far beyond the classroom.
During her first lab course, she found herself enthralled with the idea of being able to learn in the classroom, then taking that knowledge out onto the Domain. It’s one thing to learn about rock formations in the classroom, but she emphasized the importance of being able to “go out and see what has happened, to look at them and feel them, to get out your hand lens to look really close. It can be hard, but I do love it,” she said.
Coming into Sewanee, Crews initially planned on studying Spanish or international and global studies, but out of chance, she landed in an introductory forestry class. This is where her love for the natural sciences began, and she noted how they allowed her to familiarize herself with the many facets of the environment, resulting in an interest in earning a watershed science certificate.
“Why I chose it is that it’s very interdisciplinary, you can pull from a lot of different departments and classes; I get to take forestry classes, geology, biology, and environmental studies,” Crews said. “I love that I get to apply what I learned in the classroom to the field immediately, being able to delve into it and get my hands dirty.”
Having nearly 13,000 acres as labspace isn’t typical of the undergraduate experience, and “being able to learn about forest restoration and then being able to go out to different sites and take measurements and do prescribed fires” is part of her endearment for the natural resources program, how it allows her to think of “ecosystems and the environment as a whole, not just in pieces.”
When prompted as to where she hopes to see herself after graduating, her first response was “not a park ranger,” laughing as she explained that it’s typical most assume students in her department want to work in that capacity.
“I just hope that I get to have a job where I get to do a lot of work outside,” Crews said with a smile.