The Road Less Traveled – Developing Alternative Pathways for Forestry Education for Place-based Students

Entry 34 - PictureIt is sobering to note that in the United States over half of the people involved in forestry and wildland firefighting are Native American. Yet less than one percent of professional forestry graduates are Native. While working on post-fire activities on a large fire on a larger reservation, I read through hundreds of job applications. On the application form, I had asked the question: what is your dream, if all obstacles were removed, what do you want to do with your life…and I was surprised that over half the responses were “be a forester.”

I lived on the Fort Apache Reservation for five years working as the Rodeo-Chediski Burn Area Emergency Rehabilitation Implementation Leader. The 2002 Fire Complex had burned just under a half million acres, with approximately 60% of the burn on the tribal lands of the White Mountain Apache. The Tribe had contracted the post-fire response from the federal government. I was hired to lead this effort. In this position, I had the opportunity to work closely with dozens of tribal members. Our focus was on healing both land and people. I learned firsthand that two could not be separated. A key strategy of our operation was leadership training by leveraging the opportunity to implement projects in a way that fostered leaders.

In this mentoring role, I saw the need for many more professional foresters who are tribal members. Yet, I also saw firsthand many barriers that make earning a college degree in forestry an unattainable dream for many reservation-based forestry technicians. One of the values that would make these potential students great foresters is their love for their lands. Yet it is this same connection that inspires them to choose to stay home, connected in their culture and with their landscape, than to leave for four years, risk what might become a permanent distance from this relationship with the land.

My dream is to create an alternative pathway for place-based, mid-career forestry technicians to earn their college degree in a limited residency environment. Limited residency includes on-line instruction, which can be a rich combination of self-paced exercises, readings, and writing paired with real-time discussion…as well as occasional week to two-week long in person field sessions. I feel programs can be designed for individuals that include assessment and identification of professional gaps- then self-designed courses with qualified mentors to fill in those gaps.

I met with my major professor who had guided my Master’s Degree in Fire Ecology about a week before he died from cancer. I thanked him for inspiring me to seek a teaching role, and explained what I wanted to do. He suggested that I would need a PhD, and that I should earn that PhD in the same way I expected my future students to earn their Bachelor’s degrees. I would need to do it in a limited residency format while I held a regular job.

A year later I enrolled in the limited residency Sustainability Education PhD program at Prescott College, located in Prescott, Arizona. I am now 36 semester hours into the program, and ready to bring on our first students, who can earn a Bachelor’s degree through Prescott’s Limited Residency Undergraduate Program. My major focus this semester is finding the funding for tuition, books and travel for my students and myself.

I look forward to the IUFRO Congress and hope I get to talk with plenty of foresters about this project—including those who are not comfortable with this concept. I see the possibilities for developing this alternative forestry education pathway to open international opportunities for developing foresters around the world.

Written by: Mary Stuever
Affiliation: Prescott College
Country: USA

This post is entry #34 in the #IUFRO2014 Blog Competition. The most popular entry will receive a certificate and 500 USD. The second and third most popular entries will receive a certificate and copy of the new book, “Forests and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development”.

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