Undergraduate Brenna Christensen ’20 received a 2019 Society of American Foresters (SAF) Student Diversity Scholarship because of her teaching efforts on- and off-campus that help to further diversity and inclusion within natural resource fields.
“It is important to bring underrepresented people into the field of forestry where they are not well-represented,” she said. “Young people are more likely to go into a career if they have a role model like themselves. As a female forestry student, I can be a mentor for girls and young women who may not have thought such a career was possible.”
In an agricultural program at her high school in Litchfield, Connecticut, Brenna concentrated in natural resources and forestry. With a growing passion for trees, she majored in Forestry in the University of Vermont (UVM) Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.
“I chose the UVM Forestry Program because it’s SAF-accredited, and employers want to see an accredited institution on your resume,” said Brenna, who joined the UVM Forestry Club, a student chapter of the Society of American Foresters. “I like the community that the Forestry Program builds; we get to know each other well through club events and the courses that we take together.”
She credits her advisor Professor Tony D’Amato and Senior Lecturer Luben Dimov who help to foster that closeness. They act as teachers, advisors, and mentors to Forestry students and Forestry Club members.
Brenna took advantage of club-hosted events, such as the Game of Logging, an intensive chainsaw use and safety training program. She and other students in the Club worked together on a management plan for a forest stand at UVM’s Jericho Research Forest under the mentorship of County Forester Ethan Tapper, a 2012 graduate of the UVM Forestry Program. She attended SAF conventions in New England and nationally and has competed on the hugely successful UVM SAF Student Quiz Bowl team at the conferences.
Her SAF Student Diversity Scholarship allowed her to attend the October 2019 national meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, where Brenna and other Student Diversity Scholars were formally recognized. The scholarship offered her complimentary meeting registration and entrance to convention events, a networking lunch with all 2019 Diversity Scholars, a stipend to help offset the cost of food and lodging, and mentorship from a career natural resource professional for the week of the convention.
“It was a great connecting experience, meeting people in different fields and learning about the career paths that they have taken," said Brenna.
The Society of American Foresters chose Brenna as a Diversity Scholar for her efforts to engage female students and those with diverse backgrounds in natural resources.
As a camp counselor, Brenna mentored youth and led a session on tree identification at Hidden Villa, an educational nonprofit and organic farm that focuses on the environment and social justice in Los Altos Hills, California.
“It was fun to see the students tagging along after me with their notebooks and absorbing all that I had to teach them,” she said. “Teaching is such a great way to connect with people and get them excited about a subject.”
In the service-learning course Birding for Change, she helped to build the newest in a series of after-school birding clubs at Hunt Middle School in Burlington, Vermont where she worked with children of many different abilities and backgrounds to engage them in outdoor activities in local parks.
"Brenna chose to take on a challenging assignment to expand the program at the middle school-level in one of the most diverse schools in the state in terms of ethnicity and socio-economics," said Rubenstein School Lecturer Trish O'Kane, creator of the nationally recognized Birding for Change curriculum. "This took great initiative and pluck and translates into real job experience in outdoor education."
Brenna, who received the Forestry Program's Dale Bergdahl Scholarship and Dean's Junior Book Award, is now a teaching assistant in Dendrology, a Rubenstein School tree identification course taught by Luben Dimov.
“I get to introduce students to trees in the first forestry course they take,” she said. “Dendro is the first step in knowing what forestry could be for them, and after the course, many non-majors change their major to Forestry or add a minor. I love being a part of that.”