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Johnathan  Williams

Working at the Kane Experimental Forest in northern Pennsylvania during the summer of 2013 was a priceless opportunity, but it wasn’t without sacrifice for Johnathan Williams. Working as a forestry technician took him far from his friends in Alabama, he didn’t have a car, and he was living on an experimental forest. Williams credits his Forest Service co-workers with making sure that he wasn’t lonely or bored. “I had a blast,” he said. “They really took care of me.”

References he gained from his work identifying and measuring trees in Pennsylvania were essential in finding full-time employment as a forester, Williams said. He is now working as a state forester in Alabama. Williams urges students to challenge themselves to pursue work that takes them outside of their comfort zone.

“Don’t keep yourself in a box,” he said. “Be open to any opportunity. It makes you become more outgoing.”


While the work is temporary, its impact on a future career can be lasting, Williams said. “Take pride in your work and learn as much as possible,” he said.


Shali Cox

Photo of Shali CoxOn her first day of work as a forestry technician on the Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest in southern Ohio in 2009, Shali Cox was assigned the job of identifying trees and taking DBH (diameter at breast height) measurements. As a wildlife management student, Cox was more familiar with identifying animals than trees, but coaching from Forest Service staff helped her read leaves and bark to correctly identify tree species too. “They went above and beyond to help me build skills,” Cox said. “It meant a lot to know that they cared enough to show me what to look for.” 

Staff also coached Cox on using the tools of forest navigation – a map and a compass – to find her way around the woods during a day of data collection. 
For Cox, hiking through the woods for 8- or 9-hour days laden with like spray paint and flagging tape and water bottles was demanding but satisfying work. “I thoroughly enjoyed every part of it,” she said. “It was a fun and interesting summer.” In addition to measuring trees, Cox also surveyed for the invasive species Ailanthus altissima, also called Tree of Heaven.

During her college years, Cox worked at a preschool and by the time she had completed her degree, she had become enamored of early child education. Today she is a preschool teacher, and her students are benefiting from her background in natural resources. “If I am outside with the kids, we look at leaves and compare and contrast them to the leaves of other trees,” she said. “My work with the Forest Service has helped me educate the children I have in my care now.”

Emily Thomas

Photo of Emily ThomasOver the course of several summers, Emily Thomas enjoyed a crash course in identifying birds, banding birds and running mist nets.

Thomas began working for the Northern Research Station on the Allegheny National Forest before she graduated from high school and continued working with scientists until she completed graduate school. “The best thing was the opportunity to learn as much as I did,” Thomas said. “I don’t know how I would have gotten the knowledge I have today without it.”

Thomas grew up near the Allegheny National Forest and was not a stranger to a day in the woods, but she found that she still had things to learn when she started working on a study that evaluated the use of shelterwood cuts by songbirds. Her first day on the job was also the last day that she showed up for work hatless and with her hair down.

Her work with NRS scientists influenced Thomas’ decision to go on to graduate school, and her work also evolved into a project she could use in pursuing that degree. Today Thomas is a wildlife technology instructor at Penn State University’s DuBois Campus. “I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t be where I am without the people at the Lab and everything they taught me,” Thomas said.