At NCTC, we embrace “applied education.” We provide pragmatic, down-to-earth skills that you can learn on a Friday … and apply on the job next Monday.
The NCTC is located just 60 miles, or just over one hour, outside the Washington, DC metropolitan beltway. We are part of the Shepherdstown, West Virginia community, also known for the state university just down the road from us. NCTC is a walking campus on a 533-acre property. The instructional classrooms, commons, and housing are situated within the rural setting of both forests and grasslands. The architectural design demonstrates the buildings and walkways are blended with the landscape to entice guests to shed their metropolis pressures. Outdoor patios, walkways, and break areas are situated to easily view the Mid-Atlantic area wildlife throughout the four seasons. Birds, white-tailed deer, fox, and other critters are frequently seen skittering up nearby trees or moving along a grassland culvert.
Conserve fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats through leadership in:
Home and Heritage: NCTC serves as the physical and virtual “home” of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where the history and heritage of the Service are preserved and shared;
Training for the Mission: NCTC provides exemplary training and professional development tailored to support Service employees and conservation partners in accomplishing the agency’s mission;
Partnerships: NCTC helps solve urgent conservation challenges, such as, by bringing together diverse partners representing multiple points of view; and
Sustainability: NCTC is a national leader in the conservation community for its state-of-the art facility and green practices.
The Service has a noble, but very difficult mission – “Working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people”. Service employees are extremely dedicated to that mission, and they bring incredible technical expertise with undergraduate and advanced degrees from top universities. But even those technical skills become outdated quickly if not honed with the latest in scientific thinking, field techniques, and new technologies. And what about the communications skills needed to reach out to the American people? What about consensus building skills to find ways to work with others, often people and organizations who do not necessarily support our mission? How do you learn to supervise, manage, and lead when asked to step up beyond the technical aspects of your job?
Before NCTC, few Service employees had adequate access to the tools and skills they needed to accomplish our mission. There were training programs within individual programs – the Fisheries Academy in Leetown, WV, Refuges had a 4-week Refuge Academy held at various available locations around the country. Ecological Services had developed a management development program for a relatively small number of headquarters staff. And Law Enforcement had their required training programs. These efforts did not come close to addressing the needs of all Service employees and they did nothing to bring together Service employees across program lines. The Service needed to find a way to invest in the development of all its people.
In 1990, the Service was presented with an opportunity – to build a training center to address the training and development needs of all Service employees. We decided that we would address training in a comprehensive fashion, by surveying the training needs across all programs, and across all levels of the Service - from technicians, wage grade professionals and biologists at our field offices to administrative professionals, supervisors, managers and leaders in the field, Regional Offices and Headquarters.
In planning and designing the NCTC we traveled to benchmark the best public and private training facilities across the country. We studied what had worked and what hadn’t worked with their facilities and always asked, “if you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?” In October 1994, even as we hired staff to develop needed training programs, we broke ground and began construction on the NCTC facility. We wanted a facility that would blend with the landscape and age gracefully to serve FWS and conservation for generations.
But we realized that we were trying to do more than “train” Service employees. We wanted to create a “home” for the Service – a place where Service employees regardless of program could immerse themselves in the history and the heritage of the Service. We envisioned a place that would inspire them, a place where they would get a sense of being a part of something much greater than themselves or their individual field office or program. All those display cases and photographs on the walls at NCTC were carefully designed to help today’s Service professional understand their place in a long, proud tradition of conservation excellence.
Finally, we discussed the first three words of our mission – ‘working with others”. How could we use the facility and programs at NCTC to bring together and build trust and bridges with people from the public and private sectors who impact our mission? Fortunately, a partner, The Conservation Fund, had just completed a survey of training needs and interests in the not-for-profit and business communities. Those findings, plus surveys of State and Federal partners and Native American tribes allowed us to reach out to bring those partners and potential partners to the training table.
In October 1997 we opened NCTC’s doors to the Service, our conservation partners, and the world. New Service employees have come to NCTC to learn about our mission and heritage. Service employees from all programs, from entry level to executive, come to NCTC to learn how to accomplish our mission more effectively, together. Partners, old and new attend their own training courses at NCTC, participate, and even serve as instructors in our courses. Conservation professionals from other countries travel to NCTC to learn the latest in conservation methods and discuss how to work cooperatively across borders. U.S. Presidents and former Presidents have come to NCTC to conduct the business of the nation and enter dialog about the past and the future of conservation. And we remember those who have fallen at our USFWS Fallen Comrades Memorial. Since we opened, then 300,000 people have come through our doors and participated in programs.
In NCTC we started with a vision to create a home for the Service and for conservation. Each subsequent generation will redefine and add to that vision to address the conservation needs of the future.