Environmental engineering alum turned volunteer experience into career of service

Adam Hein

If you are out enjoying Montana’s public lands this summer, you are likely to encounter teams of young adult volunteers, armed only with simple tools and hand-held power equipment, tackling a bevy of conservation goals. They’re part of the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC), an AmeriCorps program whose mission is to inspire young people to be leaders, conservation stewards, and engaged citizens. Last year, MCC built or maintained an impressive 2,400 miles of trail, treated 6,064 acres for invasive weeds, and reduced wildfire risk on 910 acres.

Regional Director Adam Hein (B.S. Environmental Engineering, ’09) oversees 10 conservation crews in central Montana from a Helena headquarters. Each crew consists of 4-6 people aged 18-35. Participants receive a living stipend and an education award, which can be applied toward the costs of higher education. The experience is physically and mentally challenging, often requiring long hours in harsh conditions.

“This work is really important, and it’s rewarding to see the impact,” Hein said. “My job is to supervise, manage, and lead. It never gets boring having all of these folks coming in and out of my life, learning how to serve in conservation and work as a team. It’s rewarding to see them use that as a launch pad for whatever they want to do next.”

Some members go on to college or pursue conservation careers. Others end up in office jobs like administration or accounting. Hein encourages members to use the skills they build, like leadership, communication, conflict resolution, and teamwork to help find a fulfilling career.

He’s the first to highlight that one can take a nontraditional route to a rewarding career.

“I don’t use my degree directly,” Hein said, “but my college experience was a foundation of good general skills. I gained knowledge in geology, biology and water resources, which are all applicable to what Montana Conservation Corps does, even if I didn’t end up being an engineer.”

Hein started at Montana Tech in Fall 2005 as a metallurgical engineering major, and quickly switched into welding engineering. 

Hein obtained a welding certificate as part of his studies, then decided to take a year off to participate in AmeriCorps with Habitat for Humanity. Hein built houses and supervised crews in North Carolina for a year, and had an opportunity to participate in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

“I knew my degree wasn’t where I was headed, but I wanted to finish,” Hein said. So he returned to school, switched majors to environmental engineering, and graduated from Montana Tech in 2009.

After graduating, Hein served with the Washington Conservation Corps for six years. He has been with the Montana Conservation Corps for the past seven years.

Though Hein isn’t an engineer, he encourages students to go to college and get a degree.

“I have seen young people run into roadblocks when they haven’t had a degree It gets harder to get as you get older,” Hein said, “I would not be in this position if I did not have a degree.”

If students are interested in pursuing a career in natural resources or national service, Hein recommends trying out Montana Conservation Corps.

“There’s almost always a need for folks to come on board,” Hein said. “We have start dates in January, February, May, June, and August. We have all kinds of opportunities for folks. If you have an interest in service and work with a purpose, we want your help.”  

For more information visit mtcorps.org.