From Kerrville, Texas, Lucas Evanko, lived in many places before the College of Forest Resources at Mississippi State University became his home-away-from-home.
As a nontraditional undergraduate student, Evanko returned to school to earn his associate and bachelor's degrees, while considering pursuing a master's, after working close to ten years since enrolled as a student.
"I had no intention of attending a four-year program, I decided to go to a community college when I lived in North Carolina," Evanko said. "One day, I tilled a food plot at my hunt club, and I thought about how I could do that forever. So, I started looking for programs and found a wildlife and forestry program at Haywood Community College, and while I was there, I became friends with a professor that encouraged me to push for a bachelor's degree."
Evanko explained he knew nothing about MSU when looking into four-year programs. He applied at the professor's recommendation and sought to get out and explore after a lengthy stay at home during the pandemic.
"After I applied to MSU, the senior admissions coordinator, Cory Bailey, called me and we spoke on the phone for around five hours about my options, the FWRC program at MSU, and about myself. MSU was the only school I applied to that did that, and I just knew that I was supposed to be here," Evanko said.
Since starting at MSU, Evanko has taken advantage of every opportunity. He is the senior representative for the Society of American Foresters student chapter and works in Dr. Courtney Siegert's lab, assisting in multiple research projects. Siegert is an associate professor in the Department of Forestry and FWRC scientist. Evanko also interned and conducted research with Weyerhaeuser this past summer.
"I'm finally doing school the way I wanted to; I am using this as my chance to show the people who've supported and cared for me to witness and be part of my success during my time here," Evanko said. "I want to finish school strong, be involved, and leave Dr. Siegert's lab in a better condition than when I started, which is how I try to approach everything. I love what I've done since I have gotten here. The work I've been a part of doesn't feel like work because of how much I've enjoyed it."
Under Siegert's direction, Evanko has visited and assisted at multiple research sites. Siegert's lab collects soil samples from various projects to quantify how much carbon is currently stored in the soil and how different experimental trials, like planting trees for bioenergy and existing forest restoration programs, increase soil carbon sequestration.
"In Dr. Siegert's lab, we are evaluating productivity and ecosystem services of short rotation Populus production in the Southeast. I've been testing soil quality and water quantity and quality for the Department of Energy funded project to help quantify ecosystem services associated with biomass products. I've also worked on a bark hygroscopicity project where I measured the amount of water absorbed into bark, which helped answer questions geared toward understanding how much water a tree contains and what percentage of the moisture will be present in bark," Evanko said. "Working on this type of research helped in ways I didn't expect, like understanding more and having insight prior to starting my internship last summer."
After interning for Weyerhaeuser for the summer, Evanko was offered a fulltime position that will start after his graduation in May. Evanko shared he was excited about that opportunity and getting back into the professional, working world.
"I am thankful for the opportunities I've had while working in this lab, and Dr. Siegert has been a huge help with school," Evanko said. "I've learned it is better for us to understand the world we live in because everything is interconnected; if one system goes, we all eventually go. Looking at the bigger picture from insights our research provides helps us better manage and improve our world."