Over the past year, I have been participating in various professional development webinars offered by the
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Project Learning Tree (PLT), and PLT Canada, including sessions on Making a Good First Impression, Resume Building 101, and a Workforce Panel. I was also part of the PLT Green Mentor cohort, which is a 6-month mentorship program offered to young professionals and students in the forest and conservation sector. I was paired with my mentor, Anne Hairston-Strang, the Deputy Director & Acting State Forester for the Maryland Forest Service.
Though every single event added an essential piece to my professional portfolio, the 2023 SFI Annual Conference represents my most impactful career pathways experience with SFI. Attending the conference as one of more than 40 youth delegates was already an honor and having the opportunity to engage with other professionals in forestry from all over the world really shot the experience over the top.
If I could share a key learning from the SFI conference it would be to “Remain Resilient.” That was a major topic during the week as we spoke a lot about reconciliation and relationship building with Indigenous Peoples. I had the opportunity to “remain resilient” myself at the conference, and it ended in a beautiful victory. During the first youth delegate event of the week, we shared our elevator pitch in front of the other youth and SFI staff. On my first try, I stumbled over my words and completely lost my train of thought. But I was encouraged to come back on stage and try again, and it went a lot smoother the second time and I knew I had left an impression. I’m grateful that SFI staff, specifically Jerri Taylor, the Director of Diversity in Career Pathways, pushed me to try again and ensured that I did. The other youth delegates were very supportive as well.
My favorite thing about the conference was indeed the networking, but the most memorable was being asked to speak on the Building a Resilient Workforce panel. It was a memorable experience for me because it allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and share my perspective to this large and diversified audience of more than 500 people. It was an absolute honor to share my point of view on how the workforce could better adjust to the new generation of professionals entering their careers.
I have attended conferences for different disciplines, but the SFI conference was the most fun that I have had at a conference. It opened my eyes to jobs I was not aware of in the field of forestry, like auditing, as well as various nonprofit positions. I shook hands and spoke with influential people like Paul Johnson, SFI’s Senior Director of Urban and Community Forestry, and Kathy Abusow, SFI’s President & CEO, and the connections I made were very meaningful. So meaningful, in fact, I have been offered job positions since attending the conference and meeting the CEOs of organizations that align with my long-term goals.
Overall, I would rate the conference a 10/10. The venue was amazing, the food was great, and we had plenty of it. The atmosphere was welcoming, the professionals were receptive, and I would say we all had a great time. I honestly loved every moment; I didn’t panic when our flights were all canceled but it made me wish we were a little closer to home. Not a problem for 2024, however, as next year’s conference will be right in my back yard in Atlanta, GA. I hope to see you there!