Jacob Slusser

I train land-use decision makers (everyone from landowners to politicians) on how to restore tropical forests. I also help our program alumni to design, implement and manage a diversity of forest restoration projects.

"My favorite part of my job is being able to witness the impact of my work: empowering people to become environmental leaders so they can positively transform tropical forest landscapes. It is incredibly inspiring and satisfying to know that you make a difference at your job!"

I went to a small public high school that, unfortunately, did not offer any natural resource classes. In fact, many of my mentors throughout those years urged me to study engineering or law.

I only became interested in forestry when I was 23 years old and serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama and was helping to facilitate a national reforestation project. I had never considered Forestry as a profession, but that changed after I witnessed its effectiveness for restoring ecosystems while enhancing livelihoods and alleviating poverty. I was also inspired by many of the Yale School of Forestry and Panamanian forestry professionals that I worked with while being a volunteer. I became very passionate and wanted to learn more, which led me to pursuing a graduate degree in forestry at MSU.

My experience at MSU was vital to my choice in pursuing a career as a Forester. Notably, the passion of teaching demonstrated by professor Dr. Don Dickman, and the global application and impact that forestry has on climate, ecosystems and livelihoods demonstrated by Dr. Skole.

I also worked as a student researcher for the Global Observatory for Ecosystem Service (GOES) lab with Dr. Skole. And as a full-time graduate student with an assistantship, I had little time for extracurricular activities, but I did attend the many fun activities coordinated by the MSU Forestry Club.

After graduating, I had several positions. I was a Silvopastoral Systems Specialist for the Peace Corps Response, a Pre-doctoral fellow for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, a Tropical Environmental Specialist also for the Smithsonian, and now a Panama Program Coordinator for the Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative (Yale School of the Environment).

Today, I train land-use decision makers (everyone from landowners to politicians) on how to restore tropical forests. I also help our program alumni to design, implement and manage a diversity of forest restoration projects.

In non-COVID times, my position is split about 50/50 office and field. In the office, I’m developing training curriculum and materials for adult learners as well as following up with our course alumni and providing them support to conduct forest restoration projects. I also foster collaborations with our host-country partners, which requires outreach and meeting and interacting in Spanish (not my native language). In the field I am the lead trainer for our field courses, where we visit research sites and model farms and learn about the range of restoration strategies that can be conducted in forest landscapes. During COVID times, the same, except instead of being in the field, I teach online forest restoration training courses and webinars.

My favorite part of my job is being outside and playing in tropical forests on a regular basis! Also, being able to witness the impact of my work: empowering people to become environmental leaders so they can positively transform tropical forest landscapes. It is incredibly inspiring and satisfying to know that you make a difference at your job!

With that being said, I can confidently say that I have landed my dream job. Nothing beats the opportunity to work with people across the globe to restore tropical forests!

For those unsure about pursuing a Forestry education/career, know that it’s not just focused on the timber or pulp and paper industries anymore. It is such a global, diverse, and applicable field and one that is at the forefront of mitigating and adapting to climate change. I would emphasize exploring the different sectors of Forestry and strive for opportunities to gain practical experience (even if you don’t get paid!). Take some risks by learning about things that might not be interesting or comfortable. I took a very unconventional path to forestry and did not find my passion for it until after I had an undergraduate degree and was working in another part of the world. Also find opportunities to learn about the social components of Forestry, which often drives land-use decision making much more than biophysical aspects. If you can develop an interdisciplinary skill set, you will be more effective in your job and a competitive applicant for many positions as most Forestry positions require working with the public. So, if you are interested in doing exciting work and making a better world for future generations, become a forester!

 

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