ALES Range Team shines again at prestigious competition

    Team wins eight awards at North American event

    By Helen Metella on February 8, 2016

    The ALES Range Team rode out of Texas this month with an impressive haul of awards, attesting to ALES students’ mastery of range management topics and plant identification.

    In total, the 2016 Range Team won eight categories after completing two demanding exams at the Society for Range Management’s annual conference in Corpus Christi, Texas.

    Individual awards included first place for Sarah Thacker, and fourth place for Ross Adams, in the Undergraduate Range Management Exam.

    The URME is a general knowledge test in which students must expect to encounter any information a typical undergraduate degree program in range management might have covered. Students have just 120 minutes to answer 120 multiple-choice questions, plus a handful of word problems that require interpretation.

    The ALES team did so well because each member has devoted many hours to extracurricular study since September, said Thacker, a fourth-year Land Reclamation major who was competing for the first time.

    Hunkered down in the study room in the basement of the Ag-For building, teammates not only committed to memory hundreds of plant samples, they coached each other, too.

    “We did a lot of talking about plants, comparing what characteristics we each used to identify the plants,” said Thacker. “If I had trouble with calculations, I could always ask one of my teammates for help and we would work through it together.

    “We weren't very competitive with each other; we knew that to be competitive against other schools we had to be willing to share information and help our teammates.”

    As a result, the entire ALES team placed third in the Plant Identification exam, which consists of identifying 100 dominant plant species from North American rangelands out of a possible 200, of which only 60 or so grow in Canada. During the exam, participants are allowed just one minute per sample to identify plants, from plant pieces as tiny as a seed or root.

    Additionally, the ALES team dominated in the High Combined Individual Category (which combines the URME and the Plant Identification exam). Sarah Thacker was again first, Ross Adams second, Caroline Martin third and Jessica Grenke fifth.

    Competition was stiff, with 25 schools fielding 250 students from western North America, including two each from Canada and Mexico.

    Another notable aspect of the ALES success, said long-time team coach Barry Irving, is that other award-winning schools fielded specialty teams that competed only in one exam each. However, ALES emphasizes competitiveness in both exams by the same group of students.

    For Thacker, that meant developing qualities she anticipates she’ll never regret honing.

    “In order to do well, it was important to spend time studying every day you could and not leave it to the last minute,” she said.

    “I also found that I learned to be patient with myself. I had to accept that I wasn't going to be good at identifying the plants and doing the calculations, right away. Self-discipline and patience will definitely help me in my future career, and life in general.”

    Other members of the 2016 ALES Range team were Rachel Whitehouse, Aryn Sherritt, Stephanie Shaw, Erica Schell, Keziah Lesko-Gosselin, Paul Leighton and Jessica Hryciuk.