Please tell us about childhood influences that may have foreshadowed your career.
Shawn Spencer: I was born in upstate New York but grew up in the Tidewater region of Virginia. Our neighborhood had lots of trees in it and backed up to fallow farmland that was being overrun with pioneer trees. My parents were big into landscaping, so we maintained many different trees on our yard. I climbed in them, raked the leaves and needles, and helped prune them. Mom was a nurse and Dad an electrical engineer; neither sat behind a desk for work, and I knew I didn’t want to, either. I started taking all the science and biology classes I could take in junior and senior high school. I was also very active with my Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop, earning nearly all of the Natural Resource-based merit badges and doing all sorts of environmental/conservation service projects. I was good with a double bit axe and could start a fire in a Virginia rainstorm but was equally good with a shovel to plant more trees and shrubs.
What was your educational trajectory?
SS: From AP biology and chemistry in high school I went on to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (now known as Virginia Tech). There I double majored in forestry and wildlife biology, earned three minors, and completed a year and a half of on-the-job training through the University’s co-op program. I also hold an associate’s degree in photojournalism.
What has been your career trajectory?
SS: Through Virginia Tech’s co-op program I worked with Virginia State Parks and the NYSDEC camp program. After graduation I moved to Vermont and ran my own consulting forester business. Shortly after getting married, I moved to Virginia and took a spot with the State Parks as a chief ranger/interpreter in Northern Virginia. My next move was here to NYC, where I joined the Dept. of Parks and Recreation as an urban park ranger supervisor. I have been with NYC Parks now for nearly 24 years and have served as a park ranger supervisor, park enforcement captain, and special projects coordinator with a boro commissioner. More than 14 of those years were spent with NYC’s GreenThumb and its Land Restoration Project. Most recently, I took a promotion to NYC’s Citywide Services team.
Can you tell us about your current position, and share some highlights from your career thus far?
SS: I recently took a promotion to NYC Parks Director of Joint Regional Park Operations for five-boro Citywide Services and I am looking forward to working on our electric vehicle, green roof/green infrastructure, and biomass management initiatives. Some of my best memories are from my many years running the Land Restoration Project team. We routinely took some of the City’s worst properties and converted them to something that you might let your kids play in. We worked with more than a thousand community and school gardens across the City, doing everything from demolition to construction and soil remediation, fence and sidewalk work, tree planting and pruning, hazard tree removals, and IPM, among other things. Being able to convert vacant, derelict property into verdant greenspace and watch the community mobilize around it was terrific.
How have you been involved with the NYSUFC?
SS: I was first introduced to NYSUFC when I attended some nearby conferences in the early 2000s. I have been with the Society of American Foresters (SAF) since 1988 and somewhere in 2005/06 (as a regional rep with NYSAF) I joined the Region 2 ReLeaf group. I started attending meetings and planning activities, while looking for ways to combine the efforts of the two groups. In 2007 I was asked to become the co-chair of the Region 2 ReLeaf Committee and ended up running solo for a bit as the DEC regional forester was moved and it was a while before a replacement came in. I was able to work with the team for a highly successful ReLeaf Conference at Pratt Institute here in NYC in 2009, I’ve been involved with local and regional workshops, and I’ve represented ReLeaf and the NYSUFC at various functions and meetings.
What are your interests in your free time?
SS: I like to spend time with family, including my wife of 28.5 years, two boys, and two dogs. We enjoy time in the outdoors – camping, hiking, snowboarding etc—and visiting family in PA and New England. My wife and I have been very active with our boys’ Cub Scout Pack. I serve as the Cub Scout Council’s Outdoor Ethics Advocate as well as the Chair of the Councils Committee on Conservation, Outdoor Ethics, and STEM. I also serve on the Boy Scouts of America National Task Force for Outdoor Ethics (as the Cub Scout and Urban Implementation Specialist). Beyond that, I serve as an assistant minister at my church and am involved with the IBM (International Brotherhood of Magicians).