As students, learning is not only done in the classroom through courses by professors, but also in extracurricular activities. A conference, for instance, might give students new insights, too. In a typical class, achieving the best academic performance is the largest goal for every student, accomplished by completing assignments, class participation, discussion and exams.

However, conferences might present ideas or insights for certain issues by gathering broad stakeholders like scientists, governments, nonprofit governmental organizations, private sectors and communities. Through conferences, students might start to build both academic and professional careers.

From Sept. 27 to Sept. 29, I attended an annual conference for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, in which 22 students in the U.S. were given funding to learn about forest certification. “Linking future forests to communities” was set as the theme for the conference held in Clearwater Beach, Florida.

It recognized the critical role forests play in our shared quality of life.

Forests provide people with the air we breathe, drinkable water, habitat for numerous species and support the economy of various rural communities said Kathy Abusow, the president and CEO of SFI.

With forest certifications, they promote sustainable forest management practices in environmental, social and economic aspects.

Nine universities were represented, and I was the only student from UF. I have learned about forest certification at the university: At least three classes covered community forest management, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and environmental governance. However, at the conference I learned more about how forest certification works impact everyone and engage stakeholders to achieve sustainability in the future, especially for forests.

Besides academic benefits, meeting with various stakeholders at a conference is a very effective way to build professional networks for future careers. About 150 participants attended the conference that works on forest-certification issues throughout the U.S.

By taking a course in communication skills, I am practicing effective communication: introducing myself in the beginning for each conversation, asking relevant questions to people I meet at the conference and helping students build networks. Exchanging business cards is also an effective way to keep in touch with people. We never know what could happen in the future in terms of academic and professional careers. Talking with as many new people during the conference would be beneficial to sharing ideas or research on what we are doing or have done in the past.

However, students realize that occasionally these conferences overlap with our classes. Taking time off to attend these conferences would benefit as an investment to our professional careers.

Hermu Dananto is a UF forestry resources and conservation graduate student.