National awards honor CSU’s deep forestry roots

Two awards presented at the Society of American Forester’s 2017 national convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico recognized the contributions Colorado State University students, past and present, have made in the field of forestry.

Man with award
Tom Thompson with his Gifford Pinchot Medal, the highest award given in the field of forestry. (Photo courtesy of Society of American Foresters)

Tom Thompson, forest management, ’68, is a testament to what CSU forestry students can achieve. Thompson received the Gifford Pinchot Medal, the highest honor awarded to forestry professionals.  After 37-years in the U.S. Forest Service he retired as the deputy chief in 2005, and continues to be involved in various forestry foundations and organizations, including the Warner College of Natural Resources Dean’s Council.

CSU’s Alpha Chapter of the Society of American Foresters received first-place for 2017’s Outstanding Student Chapter, the third time in four years, in front of peers from university chapters across the nation. The annual award recognizes exemplary land stewardship service and outreach to the chapter’s university and surrounding community.

student group with award
Members of CSU’s Alpha Chapter of the Society of American Foresters with their first-place award.

Both awards have historical connections. The efforts that Thompson and his fellow students began during their time at CSU not only planted the seed for their own careers, but also led to CSU receiving the “Alpha Chapter” title as the first student chapter designated in the Society of American Foresters. This 50-year legacy continues to motivate students’ success today.

History in the making

A long forestry tradition was in place at CSU by the 1967-1968 academic year. Thompson was vice president of the Forest Management Club and helped the club achieve their goals to learn about forestry, meet forest management professionals and build up their college community.

historic photo of men in suits
Forest Management Club officers. Tom Thompson is in the front row, second from left. Source: The Colorado Forester 1967-1968

He and fellow students were also active in the Longs Peak Chapter of the Society of American Foresters. Thompson said this professional group and the students realized they shared similar goals and began discussing how to pitch the idea of forming a student chapter to the national organization.

“We saw that having a student chapter could provide more access and support for forestry students and more pride in our college,” he said. “This kind of connectivity shaped what each student wanted to become in the field of forestry.”

Thompson and other pioneers graduated that year, but other students and faculty continued the campaign. On November 6, 1969, the Forest Management Club became the CSU Student Chapter of the Society of American Foresters Central Rocky Mountain Section, the first in the nation.

Building new paths

CSU’s Alpha chapter is following in the footsteps of its early forbearers by building new paths that others can follow.

Man accepting award
Alpha Chapter President Wade Bell accepts the first-place award for Outstanding Student Chapter.

“It’s always important to not deviate from our history and what our mission is, but there’s always a need to move that tradition forward,” chapter President Wade Bell said. “We stand out from other clubs because of our member involvement and how hard our officers work to engage everyone.”

On top of annual firewood and Christmas tree sales (funds for student travel to conventions), field trips and professional networking opportunities that define the club, officers and members developed new initiatives that, like Thompson’s efforts, benefit the next generation. SAF alpha members cut enough firewood at the CalWood Environmental Center near Boulder, Colorado to fund 50 student scholarships for the center. They also periodically visit children at the Children’s Hospital in Denver to teach kids about forests.

woman smiling
Vice President Maddie Murray was a member of CSU’s Quiz Bowl team at the SAF Convention.

These are just a few of the events current chapter Vice President Maddie Murray included in the Alpha chapter’s award application. She found that each individual event and initiative the club had done contributed to the greater vision of the Society of American Foresters.

“My biggest takeaway from my experience with the Alpha chapter is that part of my role as a forest steward is to be the connection between the public and the forest,” she said.

A piece of advice

During the conference, Thompson offered CSU students advice about achieving their goals in the student chapter and in their professional careers.

“It’s humbling to be recognized in your field, but none of us do it by ourselves,” he said. “Be willing to step forward together and take on problems. Problems are solved by stepping forward, not stepping back.”

The continued success of CSU’s Alpha chapter shows students in this field are still moving in the right direction.