Forestry Students Make Most of Alumni Connections, Travel to Pacific Northwest for Career Trek

Charlie Mize MF/MEM ’19, Michelle Kaiser MF/MEM ’18, and Matt Brantley MF/MEM ’19 hiking in Mt Hood National Forest discussing how federal land management has shaped the landscape in the western United States.

With the help of several Nicholas School alumni, the Society of American Foresters (SAF) student group traveled to Portland, Oregon last month to visit some of the nation’s largest forestry companies.

Matt Brantley MF/MEM’19, SAF student group president

The group, led by President Matt Brantley MF/MEM’19, extended their annual outing to the SAF conference by two days to get a first-hand look at how some of the nation’s largest forestry companies operate on-site. “The school’s forestry department hasn’t been able to put on any career treks the last few years,” said Brantley. “So since we were already going to be [in Oregon] and we were going to be on fall break, we decided to plan one ourselves for the two days following the conference. It was a great opportunity for us to visit some companies in the pacific northwest where a lot of the most influential forestry companies are.”

On October 2nd, the group embarked on an eight-day trip that included six days at the SAF conference and two days visiting the job sites at Hancock Forest Management, WeyerhaeuserMB&G Consulting, and Campbell Global.

Brought to you by Nicholas School alumni

Several alums played a role in making the SAF group’s trip possible, including Bobbi Lesser MEM’18, who gave Brantley advice on how to plan the trip after planning one herself as a student. “While Bobbi isn’t a forestry alum, she was able to give me the basic framework for planning the trip and told me what I needed to get done to make it happen,” said Brantley. “Probably most important was that she let me know to get in touch with the folks at the [Career and Professional Development Center] who helped us acquire funding.”

Also helping to facilitate the trip was Nicholas School alum Bruce Ripley MF’89, who — in addition to being Brantley’s mentor through the school’s Alumni-Student Mentorship Program last year — treated the ten students to a backyard barbecue the day between the SAF conference and the group’s first site visit. “I had a great experience working with Bruce through the mentorship program, so we kept in touch after the school year ended,” said Brantley. “He even helped me get a summer internship in Oregon by helping me expand my network, and I was able to meet him while I was out there for the summer. So when I saw we were going to be back in Portland for the SAF conference, and I knew we were trying to plan this career trek, I knew it was a great opportunity to reach back out to him. He was able to pull through and really helped us make the most of the whole experience.”

In addition to hosting the students, Ripley also organized the group’s first site visit at his company, Hancock Forest Management.

The group’s next few site visits included stops at Weyerhaeuser (one of the world’s largest private owners of timberlands and manufacturer of wood products), MB&G Consulting (a natural resources consulting firm for forestry, environmental, and geospatial services), and Campbell Global (a full-service firm specializing in sustainable timberland and natural resource investment management).

Forestry students touring a tree farm with a Weyerhaeuser silviculturalist and learning how the company manages timber in a sustainable, yet productive manner.
Charlie Mize MEM/MF’19 looks on as Weyerhaeuser contractors explain their commercial thinning techniques, equipment, and recent innovations in logging on the steep slopes of the Cascades Mountain range in western Oregon.
Students meeting with MB&G Consulting top officers in their downtown Portland office. Michelle Kaiser MEM/MF’18, who interned their two summers ago, helped organize the visit, stating they were happy to meet with more Duke forestry students.

The visit to Campbell Global was organized by Brantley at the last minute — while the group was already on the trip, in fact — with the help of Nicholas School alum Emily Witt MEM’16. The two had met at a Nicholas School alumni social during the SAF conference just a few days prior. “Originally, we didn’t have any site visits planned for the afternoon of our last day when we were supposed to fly home. But when I met Emily at the social, she was able to work with me to organize a visit for us at her company,” said Brantley. “I suppose she was interested in seeing more Duke alumni come to her company and wanted to help show us what the culture and work was like at her company. Either way, she was awesome, and it was great for all of us to meet her and to get a first-hand look at the work she and her team are doing.”

The NSOE alumni social during the SAF conference where students engaged with several NSOE forestry alumni.

The payoff

When speaking on the value of the trip compared to what he and his classmates are able to accomplish on campus, Brantley said, “The trip really gave us a chance to do some more targeted networking. The types of organizations we visited don’t typically come to Duke to recruit — they go to the big land grant schools like NC State or Georgia or Oregon State — the ones that are pumping out huge numbers of forestry students. Our program is smaller, so that was a huge benefit to get us in front of all those types of organizations that may sometimes let Duke’s forestry program pass under their radar.”

Between the SAF alumni social, the visit to his alumni mentor’s home, and the site visits to alumni’s employers, Brantley also appreciated the chance to connect with alumni on a more personal level. “Being able to hang out with [alums] on a less formal basis is really nice — you know, outside of typical networking events that are sometimes more rigid and imposing. It’s great to just get to know them and hear about not just what they do but also who they are on a more casual level. It’s pretty refreshing.”

Forestry students celebrating after the SAF conference with the Nicholas School’s director of alumni engagement, Glenda Lee (far right), and Nicholas School alums Alex Rudee MEM’18 (far left) and Kendall DeLyser MEM/MF’18 (2nd from right). Alex and Kendall had the opportunity to present their research at the SAF Convention.

Career Treks are funded in-part by the Nicholas School Annual Fund. To donate to help make trips like these possible, click here.