Spring 2020 Student Spotlight Erin Stermer

Photo of Erin Stermer, a student in the U of MN's forestry programSo, tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Erin Stermer. I plan to graduate this coming fall with a degree in Forest and Natural Resource Management and a minor in Environmental Science. I came to the University of Minnesota as a transfer student after a couple of years away from college. I love to travel and read, and I’ll be working a commercial salmon fishing job this summer in Bristol Bay in Alaska.

Why did you decide to study forestry?

I decided to study forestry because nature has always been a really important part of my life. I wanted a job where I would be able to spend time in the woods and spend that time sustainably managing those resources so that these forests are there for future generations to utilize and enjoy.

What did you expect coming into the program?

Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect when I started with this program. I had taken about a two-year break from college, and I was really excited to have found a program that would lead me to a career in nature. I didn’t know very much about forestry, and I hoped that I would make friends and find a career path that I was passionate about.

How has your experience been in relation to those expectations?

My experience in this program has been better than anything I thought it would be. I have made some really incredible friends. My teachers have been more knowledgeable and helpful than any other school I have attended, and this program has opened up career options for me that I can see myself being incredibly happy in.

What challenges have you overcome in your academic life and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges that I have had to overcome in my academic life has been balancing a full-time class load while also working at a restaurant. Serving can include a lot of late nights, and I have to make sure that I am setting aside enough time to get all of my course work done. I think I have developed a lot of good time management skills and study techniques from the program that have made all the difference in balancing work and school.

What is the most satisfying thing about studying forestry?

The most satisfying part about studying forestry is being able to work outside in the forest, which is something I have always wanted to do, and contributing to better forest management decisions that will protect our natural resources in a changing climate for the future.

What is the most frustrating thing about studying forestry?

The most frustrating thing about studying forestry is that I find myself wanting to spend my days out in the field. It can be hard to sit in a classroom and learn about things that you can see just outside the window.

What is something you want to change about the study of forests, the forestry industry, or the forestry community?

I think that more people should just have general knowledge and awareness of forestry. Most people I have met working in forestry just kind of fell into it. Some of them have a life that takes them into the woods and others have family members that connected them to forestry. I wish more people knew it was an option.

What is something most people don’t know about forestry?

When people hear about logging, they assume there must be deforestation when that is not generally the case. Most of the people in the forest management industry are there to protect natural resources and sustainably manage forests. They want the forests to be managed and cut so that the forest can grow and remain healthy and productive into the future.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your academic life, and how are you adapting to it?

The hardest part of COVID-19 is that I have not been able to attend field courses up at the Cloquet Forestry Center this semester. This degree requires experiential learning in the field. There’s a lot of learning by doing. I am adapting to it by getting outside more and just by being in nature. It’s helpful to just be seeing what you are learning about outside in the real world, so you can apply those principles in context.

Why is forestry important for the future?

With climate change and with the direction that the US political leaders are pushing environmental policies, now is the time to be standing up for our environment. With all the changes that are occurring due to COVID-19, everyone is starting to see the effects climate change is having on our planet and seeing how the stay at home orders are giving the earth time to heal a little bit. Seeing these changes is so important for our future so that we as a whole can hopefully change the polluting, mining and management practices so that we can hopefully secure a better future for our natural resources.

How do you think your forestry education will serve you in your life?

This education has opened my eyes even more to the world around me. I know so much more about our natural world, and it has changed the way I do everyday things because I want to be more environmentally conscious and a good steward of the earth.