Leadership Corner

Forest Service diversity showcased at the Women of Color STEM Awards

October 9th, 2019 at 11:19AM
Portrait photo of Alex Friend
Alex Friend, Deputy Chief, Research & Development

Four Forest Service employees received awards at the 24th Annual Women of Color STEM Conference, held last week in Detroit, Michigan. This national conference recognizes the outstanding achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math fields by offering a forum for women to share ideas and knowledge, network, gain training and inspire the next generation in STEM.

The peer reviewed awards are reviewed by a panel of leaders from industry, government and academia, making it a highly competitive process. The recipients of these awards are senior level individuals who drive the standard for excellence in their organization. Two Forest Service women were recognized for their achievements and received the peer reviewed awards:

  • Leslie Weldon, chief executive for Work Environment and Performance, received the Career Achievement Award in Government. This award recognizes an employee whose experience enhances her job, division and organization. She is a leader who manages others with sensitivity as well as strategic insight.
  • Tina Terrell, associate deputy chief for National Forest System, received the Community Service Award in Government. This award recognizes an employee who uses technology in novel ways to improve access to jobs and educational opportunities, and boost understanding of technology’s potential to improve access to useful services, resources, and information.  

I personally had the honor to present the awards to Leslie Weldon and Tina Terrell and I could not have been more proud. Not only is diversity a core value at the Forest Service, but it’s a personal value of mine as well. Welcoming all voices and diverse perspectives into the conversation and creating an environment where everyone feels cared for, treated equitably and valued makes us stronger as an agency. Strengthening diversity helps the Forest Service create a stronger connection both within our workforce and between the agency and the communities we serve.

Two Forest Service women also received non-peer-review category awards. These are given to accomplished women of color from mid-level to advanced stages of their careers who have demonstrated excellence in the workplace and in their communities. Both of the Forest Service awardees received Technology All-Stars Awards:

  • Emily Blount, assistant director of Engineering, Technology and Geospatial Services
  • Grizelle Gonzalez, Research and Development project leader at International Institute of Tropical Forestry

I also want to take a moment to recognize Research and Development’s Senior Staff Assistant, Linda Jones, without whom this would not be possible. Linda spearheaded this project and has led our participation in this event for the past 5 years. She has done a dynamic job in making sure Forest Service women are recognized for their achievements along with providing visibility for the agency.

It was incredible to hear the inspirational stories from all the participants at the conference. Every story showed just how much these women have done to overcome diversity. The work they do and the barriers they have had to overcome are an inspiration to both women and men both at our agency and beyond. Experiences like this one highlight why we, as an agency, have to remain committed to maintaining an inclusive workplace. I encourage others to support these events and I hope we can continue to take part in this and other similar events.

Although barriers to diversity still exist, these four amazing women serve as example to overcoming those barriers. It is an opportunity for us to see the great contribution a diverse workforce can have on the agency, learn to appreciate the contributions each of us brings to the table and continue strengthening our workforce through diversity.

Four women and one man (middle) posing for photo
Alex Friend presented the awards to the honorees from the USDA Forest Service honorees at the 24th Annual Women of Color STEM Conference. From left, Leslie Weldon, chief executive for Work Environment and Performance; Tina Terrell, associate deputy chief for National Forest System; Alex Friend, deputy chief for Research & Development; Emily Blount, assistant director for Engineering, Technology and Geospatial Services, and Grizelle Gonzalez, Research and Development project leader at International Institute of Tropical Forestry. USDA Forest Service photo.