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The pros come to teach: Warnell alums come back to Athens as wood procurement co-instructors

When the students in Dr. Joe Conrad’s wood procurement class settle in at their desks, they don’t always see the Warnell professor standing at the lectern ready to start teaching.

Instead, this semester they frequently find Joe Parsons and Kim Lloyd at the front of the class, Powerpoint already cued up, and the procurement pros ready to start talking. The two Warnell alumni are tag teaming teaching duties this spring, giving students the unique chance to learn directly from those working in the field.

This arrangement means that several times per month, Parsons and Lloyd come to Athens to teach, and hopefully inspire students to pursue careers in procurement, where opportunities are plentiful for motivated students with a good work ethic, business savvy and interpersonal skills.

“There’s a wave of retirements coming in wood procurement over the next few years,” Lloyd said. “Opportunities are there for those with an interest in a wood procurement career.”

“Procurement and Management of Wood Fiber Supply” (FORS 5750/7750) has a mix of undergraduates looking for an elective credit and graduate students taking it as a required course for a master of forest resources in forest business degree. This class focuses on teaching management of the wood fiber supply, program management functions, as well as the legal aspects and analysis of current issues in raw material management. Because so many procurement foresters have retired or are close to retiring, Conrad said, companies are looking for a fresh crop of talent to fill the upcoming voids in the workforce.

That area of forestry, Conrad said, has been a hot job market for the past few years because of this decline.

This is the first year the course has had two alumni regularly co-instructing, and the arrangement came about because Parsons was eager to do more for Warnell. Both are enthusiastic UGA alums—Parsons earned his BSFR in 1981, and his MBA in 1982. Lloyd earned his BSFR in 1978, and his MBA in 1980.

A photo of Joe Conrad teaching

Dr. Joe Conrad is co-teaching his wood procurement class this spring with two Warnell alumni.

Parsons and Lloyd had no trouble convincing their employer to give them the freedom to teach, either. Both work for Graphic Packaging International—both are senior wood procurement managers with the company—which fully supported their teaching initiative.

Parsons said the idea first took root in the fall of 2017 during a conversation he had with Dean Dale Greene. Parsons had led several tours of Graphic Packaging’s Macon mill, and he was eager to do more for students. Greene floated the idea of helping with the wood procurement course.

Greene said he wanted to build on the class foundations built by Professor Tom Harris, who taught the class for many years but plans to retire soon.

Warnell’s wood procurement management course is unique for Southern universities and colleges, because very few teach a full class on the subject, he said. Most offer just one-hour seminars or a timber cruising exercise.

“We focus on management of wood procurement systems,” Greene said. “Bringing in Joe and Kim not only adds to how Professor Harris structured the class, but now students also directly benefit from the expertise of professional managers.” Greene said Warnell is lucky to have Parsons and Lloyd take the time to come back to their alma mater and co-teach.

“Over the next year, we continued to talk and develop the ideas of what we could do and who we could include,” Parsons said. “Our company, Graphic Packaging International, has supported this effort from the beginning. We ended up with Kim and me assisting Dr. Conrad with lesson development and delivery of the material. We’ve also been able to include Barry Parrish and Todd Mullis in two of the sessions.”

A photo of Joe Parsons

Warnell alumni Joe Parsons is co-teaching the wood procurement class this semester.

Parsons and Conrad aren’t the only  lecturers for the class. Warnell’s Dr. Jacek Siry is also heading up some of the lessons. Conrad said students are getting a wide range of expertise with this set up, and they are particularly benefitting from the alumni perspective. “Joe and Kim bring real-world examples to the class, are extraordinarily well-prepared, and have great rapport with students,” Conrad said. “The students have great respect for Joe and Kim and appreciate that what they are learning is being applied in the real world each day."

Lloyd was nervous before the semester started, he said. “Teaching, at least in a classroom environment, is new for me,” he said. “I was initially concerned about developing the material and thought it might be difficult to fill 75 minutes of class time. Instead, the classroom time goes by very quickly because the students ask great questions, there’s good class interaction, and all appear eager to learn. I’ve also enjoyed the time after the class in conversations with the individual students, hearing about their backgrounds and career interests.”

Lloyd is particularly committed, driving from Louisiana for their class sessions. Parsons said he’s having fun being back on campus and working with students. “Warnell students are extremely bright and quick to grasp the ideas we are presenting,” he said.    

Lloyd and Parsons hope that students take away more than just the nuts and bolts of wood procurement once the semester ends. “During your career, there will be jobs that others may not want to be involved with,” Parsons said. “If you are willing to tackle those, many times you will gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and also respect from the people you work with.”

Lloyd had more advice for the next crop of professionals: “When in the work force, don’t become stagnant,” he said. “Step outside your comfort zone. Volunteer for projects. Be creative and offer ideas. Be willing to relocate, especially early in your career. It will make your job much more satisfying and improve your career opportunities.”

So far the students are responding well to the real-world teaching. Conrad said he’s heard nothing but positive feedback from the class.

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