The Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation recently received two National Needs Fellowship grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; each grant funds four fellowships. “The fellowships are designed to increase the number of underrepresented groups — particularly minorities, women, and first-generation college students — with higher degrees in agriculture and natural resources,” explained Associate Professor Carolyn Copenheaver, project director for one of the grants.

University Distinguished Professor Harold Burkhart described the fellowships as “a great opportunity for us to attract additional highly qualified graduate students in an area of advanced study that is critical to long-term sustainability of forest resources.” Candidates for each grant are matched with faculty members who share their research interests, forging a working relationship that helps students mature into independent scientists ready for professional careers.

The Quantitative Sciences for Sustaining Forest Resources grant, led by Burkhart, centers on biometrics, geospatial analysis, and decision sciences as related to the science, policy, and practice of sustaining forest resources for careers in industry, government agencies, and academic institutions. Current fellowship candidates include Micky Allen, Laura Lorentz, and Brian Morris; Pamela Braff will start in August.

The Inclusive Excellence in Forestry Graduate Programs at Virginia Tech grant, led by Copenheaver, focuses on bringing in candidates interested in researching climate change and bioenergy. All four of the candidates — Rebecca Kidd, Melissa Shockey, Maura Leveroos, and Beth Stein — have taken advantage of the program’s emphasis on opportunities for women.

“Melissa and I helped plan a Showcase for Female Scientists, targeting female graduate students, faculty, and staff in the sciences,” said Kidd. “We assembled a panel on work and life balance, and organized several breakout sessions. Keynote speaker Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, led an open seminar on climate change.”

The candidates all agree that the program has been especially effective at fostering collaborative experience between students and with other faculty. “Networking and prioritizing of project goals are emphasized here more than in any other program I have come into contact with,” said Shockey. “It’s a very unique experience.” Allen echoed those sentiments: “This program allows us to have a small, close-knit group who attend some of the same courses and share the same experiences, and will ultimately aid each other in the overall graduate experience.”