This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Environmental educator helps practice stewardship of Shenandoah Valley resources

Photo: Blake Rogers speaks during a September workshop for the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District. The 2014 graduate recently wrote and submitted a successful grant application to fund a variety of local projects including best urban management practices, pet waste education, water quality monitoring and septic remediation. (Photo by Randi B. Hagi)

Blake Rogers has been involved with the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District (SVSWCD) since his days representing Turner Ashby High School in Envirothon, an academic contest focused on environmental sciences. Now the 2014 Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, Va., graduate runs the programs he once participated in.

As a double-major in environmental sustainability and biology, Rogers interned with SVSWCD to complete a required practicum during his senior year.

“During the spring semester, the SVSWCD had a vacancy, and I applied for the position. I started as a part-time employee until I graduated,” Rogers said.

Rogers is something of a self-described Rennaisance man when it comes to his work: he explains the numerous responsibilities as “wearing various hats.” His official title is outreach coordinator, which focuses on educational offerings for area residents and also supplementary environment education for local schoolchildren.

But he also doubles as a Total Maximum Daily Load technician, or TMDL for short. He helps monitor local waters for pollutants, an important job considering many area streams and rivers are sources of water for county and city residents.

Teaching and sharing conservation practices

Despite a large daily workload, Rogers’ unofficial motto — “getting conservation on the ground” — reaches towards long-term goals. His work with SVSWCD builds community.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is working with local residents to implement conservation practices. I know that my work will have a long-lasting impact on environmental quality in my community,” Rogers said. “I am also very passionate about environmental education and I love every opportunity to interact with and educate local residents, of all ages, about the importance of conservation efforts.”

Most recently, Rogers’s interaction with the community has focused on an initiative of his own. In 1998, the Linville Creek watershed was listed as “impaired” by the state due to high bacterial and sediment levels. Because those numbers have only improved in minor ways over time, Rogers and his colleagues drafted an implementation plan last fall.

After receiving approval from the state and federal governments, Rogers applied for and was awarded grant money to see the project through to completion. SVSWCD will be funded for a variety of projects including best urban management practices, pet waste education, water quality monitoring and septic remediation.

Teacher and practitioner

As coordinator of these new programs, Rogers leads workshops on all the topics, as well as a few others. At a recent local workshop on septic remediation, EMU chemistry professor Tara Kishbaugh was equally surprised and delighted to see her former student working with SVSWCD.

Kishbaugh taught Rogers in general chemistry and was impressed with his attention to detail and conscientiousness in the lab even early in his college career.

“He gave a really solid presentation. He spoke eloquently about the science and was engaging,” Kishbaugh said. “It’s great [to see] the work he’s done on securing grants — both for this septic program but also for other educational projects.”

Rogers, who was raised in the Hinton area of Rockingham County, enjoys getting out into the community as a representative of SVSWCD, where he says connecting with area residents helps fulfill immediate and long-term goals of promoting conservation and local stewardship of soil and water resources.

But this job isn’t the last stop for Rogers, who since the age of 18, has volunteered with the Clover Hill Volunteer Fire Company. In the process of completing paramedic training, he’s also working to earn an associate’s degree in emergency medical services.

His original plan after graduating from EMU was to attend medical school, and that dream hasn’t died. He’d like to pursue studies as a physician assistant.

“I am equally passionate about medicine and environmental health and conservation,” he said.

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