Christina Harper, a forester trainee in an internship program for the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky and northern Tennessee, first “stumbled upon” forestry while attending Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Today, she’s preparing to become a prescription forester on the Bienville National Forest in Mississippi. Harper participated in the Federal Pathways Program that provides paths to federal internships and careers in government for students and recent graduates.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which is a much larger city than Murray, Ky., where I live now. Most of my family still lives in Florida. Some of my mom’s family still lives in the Bahamas.
Where did you go to school and how did you get interested in forestry?
I started out at Florida A&M University and eventually transferred to Alabama A&M University. I actually stumbled upon forestry. No recruiters come out to my high school. In fact, I was encouraged to go into traditional fields like pharmacy, nursing, teaching or business. I grew up in the city so I had very little experience with forestry.
When I got to Florida A&M, my freshman year I felt a lot of pressure to pick a major. I was participating in a work-study program in the agricultural building when a man named Ted Willis, a Forest Service liaison for Florida A&M University, asked me if I was interested in forestry. I told him about my participation in a summer program that stimulated my interested in botany. He told me about the agency’s Student Career Experience Program. I ended up writing an essay about getting involved in forestry and the rest is history! The forestry program accepted my application and I received a scholarship to complete my bachelor’s degree in forest management.
How did you start working for the Forest Service?
During my first summer in college I worked with the Forest Service in Juneau, Alaska at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center. The best part of the job was getting to be so close to a glacier. It amazed me every day to see that landscape!
After that, I returned to school in Florida and started interning during summer breaks at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. In the fall of 2007, I transferred to Alabama A&M University - it was probably the best move I ever made. I was so excited to be at the only historically black college and university with an accredited forestry program. I graduated in the summer of 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in forest management.
During my time in school, I gained many of the skills needed to be a forester. As a trainee at Land Between The Lakes, I obtained the field experience that enabled me to use my knowledge and skills. The best part of my job has me outdoors - walking on ground that most people never see. I am proud that my work as a forester contributes to keeping our forests healthy for people to enjoy for years to come.
What’s your next move?
I recently accepted a prescription forester position on the Bienville National Forest in Mississippi. I’ll transition from a forester trainee to a fulltime professional forester. I get to use my own creativity and apply all the training and opportunities I’ve received to work independently and showcase all the skills and knowledge I’ve gained at Land Between The Lakes. Beyond being a prescription forester, I aspire to become a silviculturalist. I definitely plan to stay in the south, but I do love to travel.
Who inspires you?
My mother inspires me. She raised four children on her own, and has always been my greatest champion and supporter. She encouraged me to take on the forestry opportunity. Most of my friends went into more traditional fields, but my mom told me not to be afraid of something that’s different. Her inspiration has paid off in both my career and personal life.
I hope to inspire my son, Chase, just like my mother inspired me. He’s five years old and loves being outdoors. He wants to become a science teacher.
Even though it feels like I stumbled across forestry and working for the Forest Service, my ability and my love for the outdoors always lived inside of me. Now I am enjoying and living my dream. I thank everyone who has helped me along my way.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.