Director of the Raystown Field Station
Looking back on his career, Chuck Yohn has exhibited an uncanny ability to predict what he is going to be doing decades down the road. After all, this is a guy who wrote in an elementary school writing assignment that he "wanted to be a forest ranger and live in the woods." Then he fulfilled an early college assignment by writing that he expected to be teaching at Juniata ten years after graduation.
In a manner of speaking, both those predictions came true. Although he doesn't exactly live amid towering trees and isn't an official faculty member, Yohn has played a crucial role in the growth of the College in his role as director of the Raystown Field Station, a post he has held since 1993.
During his tenure, Yohn has overseen the growth of the Field Station from a one-room farmhouse to overseeing its transition into a cutting-edge complex of ambitious, environmentally "green" buildings where students can live for an entire semester. In ten years at the field station, Yohn found a teaching career, a challenging assignment that allowed him to stretch his skills, and personal happiness—not a bad trifecta for someone who didn't want to come to Juniata in the first place.
"In high school I had done some projects at Southern Illinois University and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and going to a small rural college didn't really interest me," Yohn recalls.
What did interest him was nature. An early interest was his collection of live spiders—kept in his garage. "I spent a good part of my childhood trying to find a pet shop that would order in a tarantula," he says with a smile. Set to attend a large research university, he agreed to visit the Juniata campus to assuage his parents, both of whom had attended Brethren colleges. "We got no campus tour, no interview, but they told us there were a group of students departing for a field station," he says. "In minutes I was in the front of a jeep next to a dog and Bob Fisher (professor emeritus of biology) and I spent the rest of the visit on Raystown Lake."
That single visit convinced Yohn to enroll and one of his first errands on campus took him to the field station office to volunteer. He spent so much time out there that Yohn admits some of his other coursework suffered. "It took a while to focus on other subjects," he says.
After a year working with the Brethren Volunteer Service and spending time working in industry, Yohn enrolled in graduate school in Penn State's School of Forest Resources in 1987, where he studied habitat composition for native and migratory songbirds. "After I had finished my course work, Juniata contacted me to teach Bob Fisher's course on general ecology," Yohn says. "When the College suggested I become full-time director in 1993 I thought they were joking."
All joking aside, Yohn and environmental scientist Paula Martin have helped refocus the curriculum surrounding the field station. Yohn is particularly proud of creating the Field Research Methods course. "When I attended Juniata, the focus of instruction was weighed toward natural history and that didn't prepare you for graduate school," he explains.
His work at the field station also played a large role in Yohn's personal life. When a chemistry student, Sharon Simpson '99, asked him for advice on a water testing business she was involved in, some chemistry of another kind developed. Chuck and Sharon Yohn were married in 2001.
In recent years, Yohn's time often has been spent away from the classroom overseeing the expansion of the facility where he has spent most of his professional life. "Chuck is dedicated, thoughtful, meticulous and has an upbeat attitude—absolutely nothing gets him down," says Bob Shafer, project manager for the field station expansion."
"I could have stayed in the classroom but I realized that staying isolated was not great for professional development," he says. "I started at the field station working on outreach programs and transitioned into developing the undergraduate curriculum and now I'm developing facilities—it's like having a new job every three years."
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