Counting on forestry
Allison Sheeks was skeptical.
Looking over the course catalog as she prepared to transfer to the University of Georgia from Augusta University, she saw “forestry” listed as a major.
She almost didn’t believe it. “I thought, ‘There’s no way you can study trees,’” said Sheeks. As it turns out, her background as a mathematics major before transferring became an asset as she moved from undergraduate to graduate degree. The combination of numbers and being outdoors was the perfect choice, she said.
“I always liked being outside and camping; it’s super fun. It was nice to study something where I could be outside all the time,” said Sheeks, who is now a seed orchard analyst for ArborGen. “For my M.S. I did forest biometrics—it was 50% math and 50% forestry, which ended up working out very well.”
Sheeks accepted a position with ArborGen where she has a range of duties. For now, she is managing some aspects of the company’s growth operations, as well as tracking seeds from different orchards and working on plans for next year’s crop of seedlings. In the winter, she is tracking cone collection at ArborGen’s orchards of loblolly and slash pine and managing the database to keep track of where and how much seed is harvested.
ArborGen provides a range of pine seedlings to landowners across the Southeast, as well as other countries. The company provides conventional and advanced genetic tree seedlings bred for specific climates, disease resistance and wood quality.
ArborGen has several connections to the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Sheeks is one of several alumni there, and it also has a long history of collaborating with the school on research projects. It turned out, her faculty advisor throughout her time at Warnell went to school with her current boss at ArborGen.
Strong alumni connections are just one of several advantages Warnell students have, she added.
“The class size (at Warnell) is so much smaller, especially for forestry, so you can really get to know your professors,” she said. “And as an undergraduate, you have a cohort, so you can make friends with everybody in your major. And you have those connections for the rest of your life.”
As a recent graduate, Sheeks is seeing how techniques she learned in her classes apply directly to her new job. As she becomes more familiar with the company and her duties, she said she’s looking forward to applying her skills with spreadsheets and data analysis.
“I’ve been digging more into what ArborGen does, which is really exciting,” she said. Some of her coworkers took the same classes as Warnell students, but some tools and systems have changed over the years. “It will be interesting to see how the classes I took have been updated and I can use them up update our systems here.”