More than a semester’s worth of planning and preparation culminated in one of SUNY Cobleskill’s most highly anticipated annual events last Wednesday, November 20, as the College’s student chapter of Ducks Unlimited hosted its 7th Annual Outdoorsman’s Night Out. Much like the chapter itself, the event continues to flourish. More than 275 guests flocked to Bouck Ballroom, shuffling from display to display as the chapter raffled off a variety of themed merchandise. There were prizes and a buffet style meal, and lots of camo, all in support of wetland habitat conservation.
The evening proved a well-earned celebration for a student club that has expanded steadily since its creation in 2012, both in achieving positive results in alignment with a mission of conservation, and in its membership numbers. Club members past and present are transforming the state’s first student chapter into an exemplar of sustainable growth. The volume of nonmembers* in attendance highlights the influence the chapter maintains at the College.
Ducks Unlimited Director of Development (NY, NJ, PA) Ron Zega (SUNY Cobleskill ’04) was one of the night’s special guests. From within the national organization’s leadership structure, Zega says his alma mater’s chapter has grown the right way – with strong direction from faculty co-advisors Dr. Mike Losito and Eric Struening, and student-driven leadership. From the point of view of a proud alumnus, he says he finds the chapter’s success unsurprising.
“The support (this chapter) is given a big part of why it is so successful in giving back,” says Zega. “There is such a strong student/advisor core, and (here) it isn’t just about the social aspect. That is part of it, but there is such a focus on conservation, and teaching and learning, and giving back on what is earned.”
Joining Zega, and attending his first ever Night Out in Cobleskill, was Ducks Unlimited Manager of Youth and Education Mark Horobetz. Horobetz, in from Ducks Unlimited national headquarters in Memphis, where SUNY Cobleskill chapter members have attended the Ducks Unlimited Third Term Leadership Summit every summer since 2017, identifies recruitment as a critical component to the advancement of any chapter. While Ducks Unlimited establishes social opportunities for members, and actively promotes wetland habitat conservation for ducks and the more than-900 species that inhabit them, it is ultimately recruitment that sustains its chapters. The message comes out at events like Leadership Summits, where collegiate chapters discuss recruitments strategies and fundraising initiatives, and share ideas about wetland conservation across the country.
“Recruitment is absolutely the key – one of the things we really try to instill is (the notion of) recruit your replacement,” says Horobetz. “If you can fill banquet halls like we see here tonight, you don’t have to worry as much about the raffles. If you can maintain alumni contact, like we see here tonight, you can really grow a tradition… It means the world to me to see this packed house.”
Not lost on Zega and Horobetz was the presence of College President Marion A. Terenzio, and members of her cabinet Wednesday night. Ducks Unlimited grows through its chapters, Zega says, and faculty support allows school-based chapters to incorporate a message of conservation into the academic experience.
“Ducks Unlimited has hired more than 50 employees from college-based chapters in the US,” adds Horobetz. “Faculty and institutional administration are critical to the ability of chapters to connect and recruit with secondary schools.”
More than 30 current chapter members volunteered, networking whenever possible and working at raffle stations. Others spoke with expert knowledge about raffle items – a Yeti cooler, vast array of prints and artwork, and miscellaneous outdoors equipment.
“I look forward to this event more than any other event each year,” announced Zega to the full house. “Each year it is an honor for me to see how far this chapter has come.”
*Nonmembers refer to those who are not active members of the SUNY Cobleskill Student Chapter of Ducks Unlimited. Many in attendance are members of other chapters, and/or the national organization
photography courtesy of the SUNY Cobleskill Student Chapter of Ducks Unlimited via Jessica Kryger-Stramba