May 31, 2017
If now is not a good time to be yourself, then when? I am proud to be a leader in the Department of Forestry, the university as a whole, and in the Society of American Foresters. I am proud to be a transgender woman in a field that is increasing in diversity. I am proud that my official documents reflect who I truly am and have always been, and I am proud of the adventure that got me here. I’m scheduled to graduate fall 2018, and although my path toward a college degree hasn’t been perfect (or traditional in any sense), it is filled with hope.
Finding MSU and myself
I grew up in the Kalamazoo, Michigan. I attended two other Michigan universities before ending up at MSU. I didn’t feel like the first schools were a good fit for me. Part of it was that I was that I was hiding my true self. In spring 2013, I failed out of my second university.
I had a choice: To enter the workforce or to start over in community college. I chose the latter. It was there that I blossomed, started to come out to the world unapologetically and developed that “Spartan Will.”
When I enrolled at MSU, I chose forestry because nature has always brought me peace, and I had an interest in science. I wanted to go to the best possible school I could and for me, that meant a Big Ten school. I loved my first visit and knew that MSU would be a great place for me.
The faculty and staff at MSU have been very supportive and encouraging. Also, members of the Forestry Club have become great friends and allies. The faculty and staff have been very inclusive about using the correct pronouns and my name change. Occasionally, I’ve had to explain some of the differences.
However, no matter where I go, I’m always coming out to someone. By doing so, it gives me the opportunity to further educate someone who may have never met someone or been exposed to someone who is transgender. I’m grateful that MSU has been a safe place for these conversations.
I am currently the Student Representative for the MSU student chapter of the Society of American Foresters. I am also the SAF District 5 representative for the Student Executive Committee for the national SAF board. I communicate with 12 universities and junior colleges in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.
I’ve taken on these responsibilities because I don’t see people like me in forestry and I want to change that. Right now, it’s more important to be out there and visible more than ever before.
I want people to see me, so they can know that the field of forestry is evolving. The careers within forestry are diverse and so are the individuals in those positions. I want to help create a safe, nonjudgmental space for any student on campus. When people try to say I don’t exist or I can’t do something, it’s important to me to be strong and to be out. I’m an advocate for the entire trans and greater LGBT community. I want to show that no matter what odds I face, I can do anything I put my mind to. And, others can too.
I recently accepted a Pathways position with the United States Forest Service for summers 2017 and 2018 in Munising, Michigan. Pathways provides a direct connection to federal careers for students and recent graduates.
Students begin the program as summer interns. After graduation, their positions are eligible to convert into full-time employment. I accepted a forestry technician position in silviculture (managing the health and quality of forests). For the first time in eight years, we will be conducting prescribed burns at the Hiawatha National Forest. I will be getting hands-on job experience that will be relevant to my career. It is a priceless opportunity.
I am looking forward to being a part of the USFS and meeting other Pathways students from all over the country. I’ve had great conversations with my unit managers. I know that my Pathways team has my back — making sure I am comfortable on the job and off. I also can’t wait to be living and hiking in the beautiful terrain around the Upper Peninsula — especially the legendary Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
As I look towards my future, I think about how much I’ve grown, both as a person and as an advocate for my community.
My advice to other students like me? Even though you may have a different gender identity or sexual orientation, you should not let those things define you or hold you back from accomplishing your goals. Your journey is unique to you and you shouldn’t care what other people think.
You know yourself better than anyone else and no one knows your needs like you do. People are going to judge you for something regardless, even if it’s not your identity. You might as well be yourself and be out there. You don’t know who you might inspire.
Just keep on, girl; keep on, boy (or however you identify or express who you are!). There are more resources and help out there than you know. Don’t give up.