NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Immediately after Dr. Roger Masse, assistant professor of wildlife in Stephen F. Austin State University's Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, completed his lecture on safety and the best techniques for finding vertebrates like salamanders and lizards, 25 eighth-graders from Nacogdoches County ISD middle schools enthusiastically ventured out into the sun-dappled forest floor of SFA's Tucker Woods, turning over logs and peering into thickets for the elusive creatures.

The enthusiasm for their surroundings and willingness to take on new challenges is exactly what the sponsors had in mind for the Leaders of Tomorrow, or LOT Crew.

The LOT Crew program began 14 years ago as a leadership-development initiative, hosted in collaboration with SFA, the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce, the City of Nacogdoches and Nacogdoches County ISDs. Since then, the program has provided immersive, community-based experiences for hundreds of local students.

Dr. Judy Abbott, dean of SFA's James I. Perkins College of Education and chair of the Nacogdoches Chamber of Commerce education committee, said the program's concept is to develop leadership skills and introduce youth to what it means to be an engaged citizen of the community.

"We make selections of the experiences on a monthly basis to introduce the students to different aspects of the city and show them areas where citizens might have influence in serving on boards or through leadership to help the community," Abbott said.

This month, the students visited SFA's Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, exploring an array of subjects, including applications of spatial science in forestry and city planning, sustainable community-based agriculture, solar power and wildlife conservation. 

Dr. Dave Kulhavy, Lacy Hunt Distinguished Professor of forest entomology and landscape ecology at SFA, helped coordinate the students' visit.

"It is important for young students to see the ways in which they may make a difference, work outdoors and use cutting-edge technology in the field of natural resources," Kulhavy said. He also added by exposing students to this early in their lives, they may better prepare for college and a career in natural resource management.

Josh Roy, a student at Nacogdoches' Mike Moses Middle School, said what he learned while visiting with Dr. Jared Barnes, assistant professor of horticulture at SFA, will help him improve the summer garden he and his family recently planted.

Dr. Keri Launius, college/career coordinator for Nacogdoches ISD, said through the LOT Program, those involved are investing in the future of Nacogdoches. 

"Nacogdoches is a great place to live, and we want to create good citizens for our community, intelligent citizens and kids that do good things for other people," she said.