Natural selection

Katelynn Jenkins
Katelynn Jenkins finds her calling through the forestry program.

Katelynn Jenkins began her undergraduate career at Northern Arizona University driven by a single goal – develop a way in which she could leave Mother Nature better off than how she found it.

Taught from a young age to both appreciate and sustain the beauty in her surroundings, Jenkins spent many summers participating in Grand Canyon Youth river trips that included environmental rehabilitation projects.

This dedication to improving the natural conditions of northern Arizona compelled Jenkins to pursue a degree in forestry, which has enabled her to explore her passion both inside and out of the classroom.

“After being involved in the Grand Canyon Youth projects, I realized that I wanted to work in restoration and ecology, and that forestry is where I wanted to go,” Jenkins says. “I knew I wanted to be close to the environment.”

Seizing opportunity

Jenkins, who graduated this past May, first arrived at the university with a desire to work with her fellow foresters, who encouraged her to join the Forestry Club. Founded in 1958, the Student Chapter of the Society of American Foresters (SAF) is an accredited program that strives to educate and prepare students for employment opportunities following graduation.

“If you want to be a professional forester, you should become a member of the SAF because it represents forestry in the United States,” Jenkins says. “The club is linked to the national association, and we receive important forestry information from across the country as well as all the leadership opportunities available to underclassmen.”

Jenkins didn’t waste any time capitalizing on these opportunities – since joining, she has served as the Forestry Club’s secretary, treasurer, vice-president, and now president. It was  Jenkins’ responsibility to oversee the group’s activities, which include community clean-ups, guest speaker presentations, logging sports competitions, and other social events geared towards increasing its presence on campus.

Along with her work with the Forestry Club, Jenkins also served as a member of the Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE), a group that studies wildland fires and how they can affect an ecosystem.

Field experience

At the start of her freshman year, Jenkins was selected to work with the Ecological Research Institute (ERI) as an undergraduate researcher. She says this opportunity – which included two summers of field work around northern Arizona and the Southwest – helped her learn more about herself.

“Without a doubt, my experience with the ERI developed my passion for ecological restoration and helped me grow, both professionally and personally, into the person I am today,” Jenkins says.

Her work with ERI also opened up other doors.

“My work with the ERI landed me a job as a Fire Effects Monitor for the Grand Canyon National Park and also provided me with the opportunity to conduct a research project,” Jenkins says.

For this project, funded jointly by a Hooper Undergraduate Research Award and the ERI, Jenkins analyzed the effects of the Schultz Fire on the aspens in Lockett Meadow. This 2010 wildfire burned nearly 15,000 acres of land in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff.

Jenkins has conducted many of her studies at the Northern Arizona University Centennial Forest (NAUCF), a nearly 50,000-acre tract of land allotted to the university by the state to provide opportunities for students to get first-hand experience in the field.

Having these sorts of extracurricular activities available within miles of her university has enabled Jenkins to flourish in her goal of pursuing her master’s degree and becoming a seasonal worker with wildfires. She explains the opportunity to conduct research out in the field has provided invaluable experience that will benefit her in future endeavors. 

“It’s great to be so close to the area and the environment that I want to work in as a student. I think Northern Arizona University has been a huge help in setting me up for success with the fantastic forestry program they have here.”