When Irene Van Hoff decided to make a career change after more than 20 years in a nursing career, she decided to follow her high school dream of working in forestry. Her first step was enrolling at Haywood Community College in the Forest Management Technology program.

Van Hoff came to HCC as a mother of four teenagers and with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. She finished the program in 1997 and continued her education at Western Carolina University, finishing there in 1998 with a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Management.

This summer will mark 14 years of working for the National Park Service at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, NC. At the site, she serves as a Biological Science Technician. Her duties include managing the natural resource program including:  historic gardens and landscape, hazard tree program, invasive species control, natural resource project proposal development, volunteer group project coordinator, citizen science program director, and research coordinator.

Van Hoff welcomes HCC students annually to the site by conducting a presentation on different park service careers, talking about the mission of the park service, and exploring exotic species at the site.

“The HCC program was so hands-on,” Van Hoff explains. “We spent more time outside of the classroom than in it. It was such a huge plus. With so much hands-on experience, what we learned became second nature. That’s exactly what you need when you are out in the field.”

The in-depth hands-on training provided a leg up when Van Hoff got to WCU. “The students from Haywood would always get our labs done in a fraction of the time. We didn’t have to look at the tools and figure out how to use them. We already knew.”

Van Hoff enjoys spending time hiking, camping, fishing, and gardening.