Forestry student Jay Deason in the Clemson Experimental Forest.

Non-traditional forestry student Jay Deason is pursuing his degree in forest resources management.
Image Credit: Clemson University

In his 45 years, Jay Deason has attended three universities, pursued five different majors, worked as a bartender, served in the Navy, become a father and saved lives as a paramedic. Now he’s at Clemson, majoring in forest resources management. His major gives him the tools to help others solve the complex problems of conservation and land management. And this time, he’s sure he’s found his fit.

Forest resources management is actually Deason’s third major at Clemson. The sheer number of options overwhelmed him when he first enrolled. He bounced from one area of study to another, hoping to find his fit. He took surveys and quizzes, trying to pin down his place of best fit. He did some old-fashioned soul-searching, too.

“I sat down and was like, ‘What’s the one thing I like doing the most?’” he said. “And I was like, ‘Alright, I like golf, and I’m never going to be able to make money in golf. So what else could I do?’”

He realized that he spent a large amount of his time outdoors hiking and backpacking. With this in mind, he decided to major in environmental and natural resources. There was something missing, though, so he switched his major to plant and environmental resources. Throughout this process, he consulted with professors Dara Park and Don Hagan about his career options. They helped him to see his future in a new light. With their guidance, Deason was able to put a finger on the major that was best for him. He switched to forest resources management, and he has studied that ever since.

In his major, he is able to learn about how various forest management techniques can affect different spheres of his world. He uses his scientific knowledge to inform his thoughts on state and federal policy. Meanwhile, his hands-on experience in Clemson’s Experimental Forest — a 17,500-acre working forest and natural resource dedicated to education, research and demonstration — takes his education beyond theoretical conjecture. It allows him to test the immediate physical impacts of various approaches to conservation, which he sees as the comprehensive education he’s pursued throughout his life.

Spending time in the woods is not a new experience for Deason. Before coming to Clemson, he frequently looked for opportunities to be outside. “I was always driving up (from Charleston) to North Carolina, or up around Jones Gap. I was doing a lot of hiking there. I always enjoyed being outdoors,” he said.

But it took some time for Deason to choose an area of study that matched those outdoor interests. After high school he studied business at the University of South Carolina. The experience didn’t prove to be stimulating, and he moved on after about a year and half. He spent the next few years serving in the Navy, and then he enrolled as a math major at the College of Charleston.

“It never really clicked with me,” he said.

He left school to work as a bartender. During that time, Deason met his wife-to-be. The couple’s first child was born with a chromosome abnormality that required extensive medical procedures in the first 30 days of his life. After seeing the positive effect medical professionals have, both Deason and his wife wanted to enter the health care field. Deason put an undergraduate degree on hold, choosing to obtain certification as a paramedic instead. Meanwhile, his wife went back to school to prepare for a career as a nurse anesthetist.

Deason spent 10 years as a paramedic. He liked the job. By the time his wife finished her studies, however, he was ready to move on and try something different again.

That shift led him to Clemson — and to his major, which have proven an incredible fit. Deason doesn’t just love his major and the work his degree requires, though. He has also become enamored with the Clemson experience.

“Clemson has the best campus — by far. I think it’s got the best people. I’ve enjoyed the teachers the most,” he said.

At Clemson, he’s able to do what he loves both inside and outside of the classroom. He has worked on a number of initiatives outside of his regular studies. Just this past summer, he worked on a prescribed goat-grazing project under associate professor Cal Sawyer, using goats to clear invasive plant species from the Clemson campus. He’s currently involved in a Creative Inquiry project headed by assistant professor Patrick Hiesl. The project members aim to collect data on ice storm damage in the Southeast and to use that data to advise the owners of various forest stands.

“I think it’s a really good study that will have some big implications,” Deason said.

All of these activities have Deason excited about his academic and professional future. He’s optimistic about getting his bachelor’s degree. Now that he has found an area of study that blends his desire to help with his love of the outdoors, Deason is perfectly positioned to finish what he started

“I’m in pretty deep,” Deason said, laughing.