On a sunny spring day, a group of students are gathered along Trout Creek behind Lake Tahoe Community College taking water samples. They're learning how to test water in the field for indicators like pH, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen.
The class, taught by the League to Save Lake Tahoe's Jesse Patterson, is part of LTCC's environmental technology and sustainability degree program, which strives to prepare its students for careers in environmental work in the Tahoe Basin.
"I think aside from Barton [Health], environmental work is probably the most abundant opportunity we have here for year-round, full-time employment," said Patterson, who started teaching the class "field monitoring of streams and lakes" four years ago when the degree program was officially established.
"Working for Keep Tahoe Blue and hiring people here for almost six years now, you often have to import people, or you end up with the best candidates being someone who doesn't live in Tahoe. I think we need more people in town who are from Tahoe or committed to Tahoe with the skills needed to get those jobs here."
In about a year, students can earn an associate degree or certificate of achievement in environmental technology and sustainability that will qualify them for jobs at the numerous environmental agencies around the basin — like the U.S. Forest Service and California Tahoe Conservancy — or the credits to transfer to a four-year university.
"We polled some of the agencies in the area, they told us the skills they are looking for, and we created a program that aligned with the local labor force," said Scott Valentine, LTCC earth science faculty member. "That was the goal in creating the degrees — teaching hands on skills so they could transition into the local and regional labor force."
LTCC student Keith Tom is finishing up the last quarter of his environmental degree while also working as the program manager for the Sugar Pine Foundation.
"I was a geology major at the college when I heard about the program," said Tom. "The longer I've lived here the more I've become interested in the environment, so it was about time to get in the field."
Tom said the hands-on work out in Tahoe's natural environment was the best experience for him.
"You're actually learning a lot of really interesting things, you meet great contacts, and you deal with all the agencies around the lake," said Tom. "It's fantastic."
After retiring from the Marine Corps, now-LTCC grad Greg Hoover wasn't sure what to do next.
"I went through the environmental technology and sustainability program and finished last spring," said Hoover.
During that time, he secured a job with the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association as the water quality manager and aquatic invasive species management coordinator.
Hoover manages the day-to-day weed-harvesting schedule in the lagoons as well as the bigger picture plan for getting the plants under control.
"When I got the job here it was recommended to take Jesse's water monitoring class," said Hoover. "It's helped me a lot. He gave me the baseline for everything I needed to know, and then I've taken it and expanded on it since."
Hoover is now working with the League as he prepares to implement several new projects to combat the Tahoe Keys' invasive species.
He's continued his education at Sierra Nevada College where he has a year left in getting his degree in biology and minor in environmental science, then he's on to his master's in teaching.
Over the last four years, the environmental technology and sustainability program has had anywhere between 20-30 students at any given time, but the teachers think there is room for more growth.
"It's been encouraging to see so many people getting jobs out of the class and out of the program because that's really what it's about," said Patterson. "It's doing well, but we should do a lot more of it. There are a lot of people in town that would be great for these jobs if they had the skills for it."