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An image of Joseph Olmsted and Donovan Robar

Despite pandemic separations, Warnell’s top seniors find connections

Donovan Robar isn’t going to sugarcoat it: Transferring to the University of Georgia in the fall of 2020 was just about the worst timing. Ever.


After attending West Virginia University for a portion of his undergraduate studies, his goal was to finish his pre-veterinary wildlife sciences degree through UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. He’d met a wildlife veterinarian (and UGA alumnus) while in West Virginia, and the experience inspired him to pursue veterinary studies.


As he began classes that fall, in a new town and sequestered in a new living space, he realized it was not the experience he signed up for.


“I think I missed meeting more people. I had a lot of very close friends in West Virginia,” he said. “Coming from that and not even being able to go to class with people, it was very hard.”


But, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, he persevered. Now, Robar and fellow senior Joseph Olmsted are graduating at the top of their class—summa cum laude—in this spring’s convocation ceremony. In total, 43 undergraduates and 34 graduate students are scheduled to complete their UGA education this weekend at a series of ceremonies.


While Robar found a direct line to Warnell, Olmsted, a wildlife sciences major, found the program after first enrolling at UGA as a biology major. It’s UGA’s largest undergraduate program, though, and the large classes weren’t sparking joy.


As an outlet, he began volunteering with Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, where his duties included animal care and trail guiding. “I was like, ‘Wow, I could do this as a career,’” said Olmsted. 


He found his way to Warnell and met with the school’s pre-professional advisor at the time, Whitney Jones. “She was super nice and super inviting, and she told me about the wildlife major and everything I could do with that,” he added.


While Robar and Olmsted haven’t crossed paths much during their time at Warnell, each shares similar philosophies about studying—basically, just study until you think you’ve got it. Robar credits his mother, an engineer, with his study skills (“She was always hard on me, but do I credit her for my good study habits”) while Olmsted divulged that one of his secrets is to consider the long-term benefits to studying for, and ultimately passing, a quiz or a class.


“I think when you enjoy what you’re learning about, it’s kind of a lot easier to put the work in,” he said. “I really like to plan my future about 5 years ahead—it’s comforting to me. So, I just think about that, when I’m struggling with school or something, what this is going to do for me. It’s something I can reach for.”


After graduation, Robar plans to work on a fire crew for the U.S. Forest Service in West Virginia. He earned his red card during spring break through the Wildland Fire class with Warnell associate professor Doug Aubrey. While his longer-term goals may include veterinary school, right now he’s looking forward to putting his skills to work (and taking a break from school for a little bit).


His face lights up when he talks about his most recent spring break experience.


“It was a really awesome class. Everyone in the class was fun,” he said. “We had a good time over spring break.”


Olmsted has a similar reaction to field trips he took in classes, such as a trip to the Jones Center at Ichauway with his Mammalogy class, or a trip to Jekyll Island with his Ornithology class. 


Similar to Robar, Olmsted plans to head into a short-term position—a fellowship at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Minnesota—and let his career path unfold from there.


As they move into the real world, each continues to follow the lessons they learned at Warnell. That is, get outside, learn as much as you can about your surroundings, and take opportunities when you can. For Robar, that meant joining the Warnell Student Ambassadors program, which allowed him to have experiences with students from a range of disciplines. For Olmsted, that meant taking any opportunity he could to attend a class field trip. This summer, he’s planning his last hurrah: A trip through Warnell’s Discover Abroad program to Australia.


“Warnell field trips are like no other; they’re very fun,” he said. It’s also his primary advice to future Warnell students. “With classes, if there’s any extra opportunities, like field trips or day trips—whatever they might offer—definitely do them. Because they are so worth it.”

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