RUSSIA — Each year, the Forest Service International Programs provides a scholarship for a selected student to travel to Russia for the International Junior Foresters’ competition. This year, Alexis “Batgirl” Valentine, a 15-year-old student from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, was selected to participate in the 14th annual competition, where she was awarded second place for her research project, "Pseudogymnoascus destructans? A comparison study of white-nose syndrome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's bat species." The annual contest is hosted by the Russian Federal Forestry Agency. It brings together youth from around the world to encourage international dialogue concerning forestry issues.
The Forest Service and the Russian Federal Forestry Agency have collaborated for over 50 years on research, technical cooperation and policy issues. Our forests share similar species, forest health problems and threats. Both countries benefit from exchanging lessons learned through their extensive experiences in forest research and management. Encouraging students to participate in international collaboration and scientific discourse on these same topics sends an important message about the value of cooperation and helps prepare our future scientists and policy-makers to perform in the international arena.
This year’s contest took place Sept. 3–9 and included 45 young scientists from 28 countries. Each student presented their scientific research to a jury consisting of Russian and international forestry experts, scientists and academics, Russian legislators, and representatives of international groups such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Steve Eubanks, retired Forest Supervisor from the Tahoe National Forest, served on the jury representing the United States and the Forest Service.
Valentine really enjoyed getting to know other students from around the world. Aside from presenting their individual projects, the students had an opportunity to share their cultures through games, outdoor activities, cultural visits and spending time together. In Valentine’s words, “It was the trip of a lifetime,” and she made many new friends.