Rooted Ambitions: Cultivating Passion for Forestry


Exploring the motivations and inspirations of young foresters and reinforcing the need to share our story.

Presentation by Scott Reigel for Mountain Gateway Community College Forestry Program

Sharing Inspiration and Motivations

Were you ever asked by your parents or some other well-intentioned adult, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Maybe you responded with dreams of becoming a firefighter, policeman, nurse, football player, or something entirely different. Despite the diverse array of answers, a common thread unites us all: the presence of inspiration. This inspiration could have emanated from a parent, a dedicated schoolteacher, a captivating character on television, or any other source. Many of us found our calling and inspiration to join the forest products community, shaping our aspirations and forging a connection to a profession that resonates with passion and purpose. This last October, at the Appalachian Region Fall meeting in Lewisburg, WV, we saw firsthand inspired young people interested in forestry.  

Richard (Scott) Reigel, serving as the Program Head for the Forestry Program at Mountain Gateway Community College (M.G.C.C.), took the stage as one of the distinguished presenters during the fall meeting. I expected that he would review the college’s forestry program, touch on the affordable tuition, highlight the hands-on training for students at their portable sawmill, talk about student placement, and wrap it up with a good sales pitch, something like “come to M.G.C.C. for all your new hire needs.” His presentation was that and also so much more! 

Scott brought forth a group of 13 forestry students who accompanied him to the meeting. In an unprecedented interactive session, Scott invited each student to describe their personal journeys and divulge the motivations behind choosing forestry as their path. Each student stood, introduced themselves, shared their background, and passionately unveiled the personal narratives that drove them into the field of forestry. They were all well prepared, gave an honest snapshot of themselves, and talked about their dream to be in forestry.   

The following quotes are samples of what the students had to say:

  • “I discovered my love for the outdoors after working for my extension office on a watershed trip. They introduced me to a forestry camp where I met Professor Billy Newman, who told me about this college. I was, I don’t know, 14 years old, and I said, “I’m going to be a forester,” and from that day forward, I knew I was coming here. I don’t know truly where I’m going with this. I’m kind of thinking I may want to be a timber cruiser, but everything at this point interests me. I’m happy to be here and be outdoors”.- Celeste Mitchell. 
  • “I’ve always had a very special love for the outdoors. Born and raised in the middle of nowhere. I have considered a couple of different career paths before this, and I finally landed on forestry. I decided I just wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps on the wildfire side of things.”- Ainsley Burks.
  • “I grew up in a nowhere town, and I knew I wasn’t going to do something inside with a desk job. It wasn’t Scott, but somebody else from Dabney who actually came down to our school to speak, and I said, You know what, let me get into forest firefighting; I always liked working with the fire department. So here I am.” – Matthew Jenkins.
  • “I grew up in the suburbs. I did 1 ½ years in business school at Bridgewater College. I decided traditional school wasn’t really my thing and told myself a year ahead that I would never work in a cubical. And then I found myself back working in a cubical. What I learned there was there’s nothing that makes you appreciate the outdoors more than working in a cubicle. By the grace of God, I met some folks through that company that did wildlife management, and they opened my eyes to those opportunities. I experienced hunting and fishing and worked on some land management on the weekends. Then I found out about Dabney and talked to Scott on the phone, and I was sold and it’s cool, what we’ve done so far!”- Nick Dawson

Share Your Story to Inspire Future Foresters

We’re all working on strengthening the workforce across many sectors in our industry. During the fall Appalachian Region Steering Committee meeting, discussions touched on what is being done to increase the workforce and what can be done to reverse current trends. As I talked with a region member, he said his young son knows what his father, the forester, does, but, at the same time, how would other kids know about forestry unless someone tells them? We have to take it upon ourselves to share our story and make sure young people from non-forestry households have the opportunity to hear about our industry.  

My wife’s a school secretary. After our kids started school, I had an opportunity to meet their teachers and was invited to talk about forestry in their classes. In fourth grade, we made paper; I brought turtles and snakes to class, spoke of what a forester did and the tools we used, looked at blocks of wood, etc. In 8th grade, we organized an annual field day on some of our company-owned forest lands. Busloads of kids came to the woods. After arriving, multiple learning stations were set up where other natural resource professionals would talk about logging, wood, water, wildlife, and soils. 

I know most of you have done some of the same things, and there’s no doubt that the time and effort you took sharing forestry with those kids helped answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a gentle reminder that even the smallest actions can wield a profound effect. So, share your story! There’s nothing easier than telling someone about something we love and why! 

Mountain Gateway Community College Forestry Program Students

In order, left to right front (f) to back (b):

  • Kayla Wolters (f)
  • Matthew Jenkins (b)
  • Nick Dawson (f)
  • Jeremiah Mason (b)
  • Stacy Dodd (f)
  • Carson Leatherland (b)
  • Ainsley Burks (f)
  • Celeste Mitchell (f)
  • Grant Parlier (b)
  • Jacob Dillion (f)
  • Hilary Harveycutter (b)
  • Garrett Brown (f)
  • Kenneth Redman (b)