In recent years, the African American alumni of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences have worked not only to advance diversity opportunities that exist for minority students through the creation of endowments, but also to raise awareness among the public who can keep these endowments growing.
And the motivation comes from within: Each member of this group faced challenges large and small before and during their studies—a dearth of fellow minorities pursuing degrees in the field, for instance, or even an unawareness that such opportunities existed.
The history of an African American presence at the school only goes back to just over 40 years, when Ernest Boyd received his forestry and wildlife degree in 1976.
Recently, members of the alumni group met for a workshop to seek new ways of reaching both prospective students and former graduates and others who can help to push their initiatives forward.
As the number of minority graduates increases, a pool of resources for current and future students forms, said 1991 Auburn forestry graduate Kenneth Day. He and 1979 forestry graduate Dana Little—with the help of 11 other alumni—spearheaded the establishment of the African American Alumni Endowed Scholarship, or AAAES.
“I think a way to increase minority enrollment is to utilize the successes that you’ve already had,” said Day, a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Mobile, Alabama, District. “Your alumni base can be recruited. They have a sphere of influence that can be used to overcome some of the barriers that are associated with recruitment. They can be a source of getting accurate information out there. Certainly, they can support students financially and provide some great role models.”
One major opportunity for prospective students is the AAAES, an annual award that was fully endowed in 2016 and has gone on to present opportunities for new students who, in some cases, might not have even considered pursuing a degree in forestry and wildlife. The purpose is to provide opportunities for African Americans and increase student diversity at Auburn University and in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. This year, student David Aguirre became the third beneficiary of the scholarship.
Another diversity initiative, the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, or MANRRS, Endowed Fund for Excellence is in the fundraising process as well. This fund, which aims to sustain support of the Auburn chapter of MANNRS for its core operations and missions in the school, was established in honor of the group’s faculty advisor, Brenda Allen, a former extension specialist and assistant professor of urban forestry, upon her retirement in 2018.
Even as recently as 1994 when Dana McReynolds Stone graduated from the school with a forestry degree, the demographics were far different than what they are now. When she began the program, she was the only minority student in her class.
Stone, now a forest health specialist at the Alabama Forestry Commission, became involved to help bring about change.
“Everyone needs that level of support, especially minority students, because they’re in a slightly different environment,” she said. “Besides academic advice, they need additional support in areas like feedback and mentoring.”
Group member Phearthur Moore, a retired regional forester for the Alabama Forestry Commission, said he wants to address the lack of awareness when it comes to careers in the field. Moore, a 1987 graduate, said some young African Americans don’t gravitate toward careers in forestry and wildlife. He feels it’s his responsibility to give back by spreading the word.
“I think we haven’t done a good enough job of telling young people about what opportunities there are,” he said. “We need to do a better job in doing that.”
AAAES working group member Victoria David also earned a forestry degree from Auburn in 1999. She is now the director of diversity in the Office of Diversity Affairs at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. These efforts are vital, she said.
“We need to be sure there is diversity and to let students know that there are viable careers in forestry and wildlife sciences,” David said. “This group could create a holding environment, to be a resource for students who are continuing past the effort to diversity, and even beyond them; they can continue the efforts so many have begun.”
To support or learn more about the African American Alumni Scholarship Endowment and the MANNRS Endowed Fund for Excellence, contact Heather Crozier, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences director of development, at 334-844-2791 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Written by Teri Greene)