Justin Waskiewicz Brings Passion for Teaching, Forest Stewardship, and Growing Trees to RSENR
- By Robin Orr
RSENR Lecturer Justin Waskiewicz planted the seeds of his career 20 years ago in Coudersport, Pennsylvania at the former Potato City Airport. (By then the property was managed as wildlife habitat by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources). The seeds were Pinus jeffreyi (Jeffrey Pine), and they were the first manifestation of Justin’s lifelong passion for growing trees from seed.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, where his father worked for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, forest stewardship has always been a part of Justin’s life. While it should come as no surprise that his higher education started with a B.S. in Forestry (summa cum laude), some might be surprised that he left Pennsylvania’s familiar forests to study at Northern Arizona University (NAU).
Justin dove into research as an undergraduate, measuring decomposition rates of ponderosa pine snags, which provided a smooth transition into the work for his master’s thesis: “Snags and Partial Snags in Managed, Relic, and Restored Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Southwest.” While earning his M.S. (with distinction) at NAU, Justin also earned a Graduate Certificate in applied statistics. He spent one more year in the southwest, working as a research technician on projects including radio telemetry of mountain lions, before coming back east to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Maine.
On the way to Maine, he stopped in the Adirondacks to attend the Silviculture Instructors’ Field Tour that takes place just before the annual meeting of the Society of American Foresters. Impressed by the knowledge and dedication of individuals whose careers involved both forest stewardship and teaching, Justin’s career path started to come into focus.
Justin was named a National Science Foundation Graduate Teaching Fellow during the first two years of his Ph.D. program, so he spent at least one day per week working in local elementary and high schools where he presented information about his own research and taught general science topics to K-12 students. While pursuing his Ph.D. Justin also served as a teaching assistant at the University of Maine, then moved up to instructor for undergraduate courses at the University of Maine, Beal College, and the College of the Atlantic.
In 2007, Justin was awarded a Northern Forest Scholarship from the Northeastern States Research Cooperative (NSRC), which allowed him some time to focus on his own scholarship. His research on competition in oak–pine forests led to a publication in Forest Ecology and Management, numerous posters and conference presentations, and his dissertation: “Influence of Neighborhood Structure on Growth in Northern Red Oak–Eastern White Pine Stands.”
After earning his Ph.D., Justin spent another year working on research in Maine’s USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station Penobscot Experimental Forest, before moving to the University of Vermont Rubenstein School to teach multi-resource silviculture, forest ecology, and small woodlot management.
As the seeds that Justin planted as a youth have transformed into trees (see photo), Justin’s focus has transitioned from specific topical research to the broader goal of training others. The Jeffrey pines probably won’t reproduce in the Pennsylvania field they now call home, but the seeds of knowledge that Justin plants in the classroom will eventually produce generations of forest stewards who are prepared to pursue either path.