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Trainee to trailblazer: Retired Auburn forestry alum shares passion for natural resources

By February 13, 2024February 19th, 2024No Comments

Meet Ken Day, College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment alumnus and retired natural resource specialist

Ken Day

“Earning a degree in forestry from Auburn provided widely accepted credentials that opened doors of opportunities for me.”

Ken Day’s journey began within the halls of Auburn University’s College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment (CFWE) in 1976, where his passion for natural resource management ignited.  

Day’s academic career was filled with active participation in numerous extracurricular activities, including XI Sigma Pi Forestry Honorary, the Student Chapter Society of American Foresters, Forestry Club, Afro-American Association and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. His varied engagement enriched his college experience and laid the groundwork for a prolific career dedicated to environmental stewardship and community empowerment. 

Ken Day in 1981 Spring Graduation BrochureKen Day was featured in the forestry spring graduating class of 1981 program. 

His decision to major in forestry stemmed from a hope to combine his love for science with his desire to spend time outdoors, all while confronting his fears. 

“As a young guy, I had a dream to pursue a career that would feed my love of science while at the same time help me avoid one of my deepest fears – fear of people. I decided that a career in forestry would satisfy my science bug and allow me to spend workdays outside in the woods… My work experience helped me learn very early that the objective of avoiding people was not practical and that I would have to develop skills to address this fear.”

Ken Day and Dana Little

Ken Day (left) and Dana Litte ’79 (right) at CFWE’s 2023 Awards Ceremony and Reception 

While a student, Day worked as a park ranger trainee with the U.S. Army as part of Auburn’s Cooperative Education (Co-Op) Program. This decision offered him practical forestry experience and an opportunity to develop communication skills, setting the foundation for a lifelong career. During the program, he gained insight into applying academic coursework to real-world job assignments while fostering a comprehensive understanding of natural resource management. 

“1962 CFWE alumnus Mr. David Grabensteder hired me in the position of student trainee in January 1977, years before I earned my degree in 1981. This career decision was pivotal in allowing me to pay my way through college.”

Ken Day (left) with Dana Little ‘79 (middle) and Col. Jon J. Chytka (right) of the Mobile District Corps of Engineers.
Ken Day (left) with Dana Little ‘79 (middle) and Col. Jon J. Chytka (right) of the Mobile District Corps of Engineers. 

After earning a degree in forest management in 1981, Day continued his career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, where he served as a Natural Resource Specialist. Over the years, Day thrived in dynamic roles that involved hands-on land management, community engagement and policy formulation. Day retired after more than 42 years of Federal service in 2020. Day’s career boasts an array of achievements, including: 

  • South Atlantic Division Natural Resources Management Employee of the Year, 1992 
  • Superior Civilian Service Award for leadership in promoting an innovative recruitment initiative, 1995 
  • Graduated from the Sustaining Base Leadership and Management Program at the Army Management Staff College at Fort Belvoir, VA, 1998 
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Legends Award Winner, 2017  
  • Mobile District Supervisor of the Year, 2019 

Day has actively contributed to diversity and philanthropic initiatives in the CFWE. In addition to his support of the Auburn University chapter of the Minorities in Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), Day played a key role in establishing an endowed scholarship for African American students, further demonstrating his commitment to inclusivity. Currently serving on the college’s advisory council, Day’s leadership and generous contributions underscore his ongoing dedication to the college. Michelle Cole, urban forestry expert, and academic administrator in the CFWE stated,

“Ken is a true champion of DEI and a prime example of what an Auburn man should be. Ken actively supports all the diversity initiatives in our college and beyond. He turns talk into action and the AU MANRRS chapter is greatly appreciative of all things he does for Auburn. Everyone should have a Ken Day that cares so much, even when his actions are unseen.”

Ken Day speaks to students at MANRRS Leadership Conferenece
Ken Day speaks to students at Auburn’s Jr. MANRRS Leadership Institute in 2016. 

Reflecting on his time at the CFWE and Auburn, Day emphasized the value of earning a forestry degree, providing widely accepted credentials that opened doors of opportunity.  

“Take full advantage of your experience while at Auburn. Nurture relationships with your peers. Some may become enduring friends that support you on your life’s journey. Discover an area of Auburn that you are passionate about, something that will earn your continued engagement as an alumnus through volunteerism or as a sustained donor.”

Ken Day speaks to students at MANRRS Leadership Conferenece
Ken Day speaks to students about opportunities at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Auburn’s Jr. MANRRS Leadership Institute in 2016. 

Follow along in February as we celebrate Black History Month by featuring alums of the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment’s degree programs!  

Black History Month celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are integral to the country’s history. In celebration this year, organizations throughout Auburn will host several events and initiatives in which students, faculty and staff are welcome to participate. Click here for more information and to view events. 

Click here for more information on the CFWE’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives. 

(Written by Allison Killingsworth) 



Interested in pursing a degree in forestry? Explore options at the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment

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