FORT KENT, Maine — Ryan Wishart, 25, of Woodland is a pioneer of sorts.
When the University of Maine at Fort Kent conducts its commencement exercises today, he will march to the podium and walk off as the college’s first graduate of the business major in applied forest management program.
UMFK launched the hybrid business-forest management program in the fall of 2008 in an effort to combine the fundamentals and practical experience of forest technology with the concepts and skills of a business major.
“When I got out of high school, I enrolled at UMFK and earned an associate degree in forest technology in 2006,” Wishart said Friday. “I had plans to continue my education, but then I was offered a job at 7 Islands Land Company [in Portage]. The job market was starting to get worse at the time, so I figured that I’d better go to work.”
In spring 2008, Wishart saw a notice in the newspaper stating that UMFK intended to offer a forest management concentration within its business management baccalaureate degree program.
The degree program is considered a “two-plus-two” program, as it permits a student to complete the Associate of Science degree in forest technology and also enables students to complete a Bachelor of Science in business management degree. Both degrees can be completed in four years.
Students who graduate from the program can find careers as foresters, forest technicians, forest operations supervising foresters and more.
Dave Hobbins, UMFK professor of forestry and environmental studies, and Roger A. Roy, associate professor of mathematics and business, collaborated to develop the hybrid model in response to the needs of forest companies such as J.M. Huber Corp. and Irving Woodlands LLC. Those companies expressed an interest in hiring UMFK graduates who had both the forest technology field skills and the requisite business acumen to make good managers.
Wishart began his coursework in the program before it officially became a UMFK program. He enrolled in the business side of the program while employed full-time at 7 Islands, taking several online classes.
“It was difficult,” Wishart acknowledged Friday. “They were still pretty much putting the program together when I enrolled, and I think they were still figuring out all of the classes that I needed when I was moving through it. It was also hard because I was a nontraditional student and working while I was taking classes.”
Wishart said that both the university and his employer worked to accommodate him as he earned his degree. Adjustments to the program’s course sequencing were made to fit his schedule. His supervisors at 7 Islands also arranged his work schedule to accommodate his on-campus classes.
Wishart said the degree would allow him to focus more on the business side of forestry, such as selling and marketing timber and managing personnel.
Wishart still is employed by 7 Islands and hopes to continue working for them and advance within the company. He works as a scaler for the mills in Portage, and occasionally he works out of 7 Islands’ Ashland facilities, providing geographic information system updates and digitizing documents.
He sees a big difference in the forestry business since earning a baccalaureate degree.
“It was one thing to know the technical side of the industry and how things needed to be done,” he said. “But now I recognize it as a business, a big business in the state. I now examine each task as to how it fits into the business as a whole and strive to make each process cost-efficient and environmentally responsible.”
Wishart and his fiancee, Jessica Chapman, intend to marry this summer.
UMFK’s commencement ceremonies begin at 1 p.m. today in the Sports Center.