A Note from the Department Chair - Summer 2020

A brief update from the MSU Forestry department chair Richard Kobe.

Richard Kobe, Department Chair

Dear MSU Forestry Alumni and Friends,

 As we all know, our world changed dramatically in March due to the novel coronavirus. With a few hours’ notice, MSU switched from in-person to remote teaching and learning over the internet. Shortly thereafter, non-essential research projects were put on hold. Travel stopped. Face-to-face meetings moved to Zoom. Our usual social interactions and community events came to a halt. For students, late night study sessions, field work, hanging out in the Polar Bear Room, Shindig and bonfires at the Tree Research Center suddenly vanished.

And then the simmering crisis of long-standing racial inequities and law enforcement’s treatment of people of color emerged to the forefront, layered on top of the global pandemic.

There are no handbooks on how an academic department that prides itself on personal hands-on learning navigates a global pandemic. Nor is there a manual on resolving racism and inequities. In times of crisis like this, I think that it is critical that we go back to our core values to provide guidance.

MSU Forestry has long been committed to the values of community and quality. As a smaller department at a large university, we know each other and interact regularly – we are a community. The norm in our community is to treat everyone with respect and to value everyone’s perspective, experiences and contributions. We are very proud of how everyone in the Department of Forestry patiently, compassionately and empathetically made coronavirus-compelled transitions.

Our community has been building and strengthening well before coronavirus. In fact, we have been deliberately working towards becoming more welcoming, inclusive and supportive for everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, background and experiences. A forestry education and career can be an amazing, life-enriching experience that should be available to all. Our efforts have resulted in a doubling of total student numbers, with increases in all demographic groups since 2012. We are moving towards more balanced numbers of female and male incoming students and our graduate program is now comprised of more than one third students of color.

Quality is a core value that goes hand-in-hand with community. As Spartans, we dedicate ourselves to achieving excellence in everything that we do. With challenging circumstances, we innovate and do things in a different way. For example, how do you conduct field camp online? As you will read about later, students chose a forest close to their home and with equipment we mailed, conducted field camp activities through the careful guidance of our professors. It is easier to meet challenges to achieve excellence and high quality when we have a strong community where people trust one another, communicate openly, value different perspectives and are moving in the same direction. High quality in our teaching, research and extension depend on a strong community.

Many alumni have asked me how they can help MSU Forestry during these challenging times. I offer two tangible suggestions and am open to others. First, send talented students our way. If you come across prospective students with an interest in forestry, natural resources, the outdoors, or environmental science and sustainability, please let them know about MSU Forestry and encourage them to apply. Second, like many organizations, the next few years will be financially challenging due to increased needs as well as tighter budgets. If you are in a position to give back through a donation, we would appreciate your support.

Thanks to the many of you who have reached out. While the last few months have been challenging, seeing our students, faculty, staff and alumni come together makes me very proud to be part of MSU Forestry. Our community in action gives me great confidence that MSU Forestry’s excellence and high quality will endure.

Go Green!


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