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Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences celebrates 125 Years of Auburn Women and 45 Years of Women in Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resources

By August 31, 2017October 30th, 2017No Comments

Auburn University has come a long way since the time the first women students, Katherine Broun, Margaret Teague, and Willie Little were admitted in 1892. In honor of their pioneering journey and those of others who followed, Auburn is celebrating 125 Years of Auburn Women. This year, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences also celebrates an important milestone of 45 years of women in forestry, wildlife and natural resources.

Since 1892, the career options for women have grown and evolved, and so too have those of women pursuing careers in natural resources. The recognition of their positive and critical role in conserving and managing forests, wildlife and other natural resources is on the rise and widely recognized within government and institutions across the globe. We are seeing more women than ever leading our companies, making significant research discoveries, and participating in forestry, wildlife, fisheries, range, recreation, soils, and the environmental sciences as they relate to natural resources.

“The school welcomed its first female graduate 45 years ago and now boasts over 600 women alumni, and is making significant efforts to recruit, educate, and empower women in natural resources,” said Dean Janaki Alavalapati.

Currently women students account for about half of its Wildlife and Natural Resource Management students and 20% of its faculty.

“We are actively exploring ways to increase enrollment of women in Forestry, where female students presently comprise only 10% of all forestry students,” noted Alavalapati.

Alabama’s forest production and processing industry contributes nearly $21 billion to the state’s economy. “Given the magnitude and opportunity available within the forestry industry, we’d like to see greater involvement by women in all aspects of natural resources management,” Alavalapati stated.

To increase gender diversity in natural resources-related fields, the school seeks to achieve a comprehensive understanding of issues relating to recruiting women into forestry, wildlife, and other natural resource programs; providing positive and rewarding experiences within its programs; and supporting career opportunities and advancement after graduation.

As part of Auburn University’s milestone celebration of 125 Years of Auburn Women, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences recently hosted a panel discussion luncheon and networking coffee in honor of 45 Years of Auburn Women in Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resources for faculty, staff, students and alumni to explore diversity issues and opportunities within natural resources.

Victoria David, administrative director of the University of Georgia Office of Diversity Affairs, served as moderator for the program.

Invited panelists who were representative of early, mid and late career stages spoke about their challenges, inspirations, and career experiences as successful women serving within traditionally male-dominated natural resources-based fields.

Panel member Mary Berkstresser, an undergraduate student within the school’s Natural Resources Management program, described the experience as humbling. “I was able to share my limited knowledge, while also learning from the other more experienced panelists. I came away from the luncheon a better person than I was before it began.”

Panelist, Nina Dowling Payne ’79, a forest landowner, former consultant and currently a research associate with the Southern Forest Nursery Management Cooperative, stated of the experience, “Having three ‘generations’ of women from the forestry and natural resource fields in a forum showed how much change has occurred in the 20 years between each of the 3 of us.”

“It was wonderful to be back at Auburn and see how much the Wildlife Sciences program has grown and changed,” said panelist, Cindy Lowry ’96, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. “The luncheon made me feel very encouraged that the school is working hard to create an inclusive environment that foster’s the leadership of women and embraces the challenges women face in male dominated fields of study.”

In honor of this important milestone, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences asked several of its female graduates to share their backgrounds, career perspectives and the influences in their lives that can be attributed to their success.

To read their biographies and full responses, see 45 Years of Auburn Women in Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resources Alumnae Spotlight at

To learn more about Auburn University’s milestone events, visit

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