Rebecca Hargrave is an assistant professor at Morrisville State College in Madison County in the central part of our state. She served on the NYSUFC Board for nine years. She says that as a kid who grew up in Vestal, NY, she spent a lot of time outside, camping with her family or with Girl Scouts. “I spent many summers at Scout camp and loved it. I knew I wanted to work with nature.”
Please tell us about your educational and career trajectories.
Rebecca Hargrave: I went to Penn State for forest science. I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into when I enrolled, but I loved it. After my sophomore year, I spent the summer doing forest inventory in Montana for the Forest Service. I really enjoyed the job, but it was too quiet—not enough interaction with other people.
At that point I had been exposed to urban forestry, so when I got back to college that fall, I switched into the new urban forestry concentration at Penn State. The following summer I worked for the Borough of State College, PA on their tree crew, planting and pruning trees and conducting inventories. That cemented my decision to pursue urban forestry.
I graduated in the spring of 1999 with my BS in Forest Science. I thought that I wanted to get into municipal forestry, so I went to graduate school. I enrolled at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul and studied the effects of soil compaction on park trees and the ability to detect that stress using true-color, low-level aerial photography.
While there, I also worked for the UMN Forestry Extension office based at the University. I spent my time answering consumer and landowner questions about trees and working with the Minnesota Arborists Association and Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Council.
I graduated in the fall of 2001 and came back to New York to work for Cornell Cooperative Extension as a county educator in Chenango County doing horticulture and forestry work. That position was a bit of everything—adults and youth, rural forestry and small community forestry, commercial and consumer flowers and vegetables, and working with volunteers. The projects I was involved with at CCE are too numerous to name! Everything tree-related including urban forestry, agroforestry, invasive species, the emerald ash borer—and some things that had nothing at all to do with trees or plants.
I left CCE in the summer of 2012 to take an assistant professor position at Morrisville State College. Now, I teach dendrology, arboriculture, recreation area management, forest and wildlife measurements and invasive species management. I also coordinate the Environmental Sciences Department internship program.
What do you love about your current position?
RH: The mix of courses I teach just happen to be some of my favorite topics (I just love dendrology—second to arboriculture, of course). I also really appreciate being able to witness the progress of the students. It’s fantastic to see them learn something, then actually apply it, then get a job doing it.
Also, arboriculture is not a career many my students thought of before they came to college. It’s very rewarding to see how interested they are in the field once they learn more about it, and even more rewarding to have a handful of them go into the arboriculture field every year.
One of the first things that I pushed for when I started here at Morrisville was Tree Campus USA status. We already did an Arbor Day planting each year and our campus trees are used as lab specimens for dendrology, the horticulture plant materials class, arboriculture, and more, so it was a matter of forming a committee and writing a campus tree plan. So, I got together with our horticulture department and grounds and facilities and we formed the Morrisville Campus Tree Board. I submitted an application for Tree Campus status in the fall of 2012 and the rest is history.
Last year, we participated in a special competition from the Arbor Day Foundation which granted funds to ten Tree Campuses from around the country to spend on Arbor Day events. We were able to install three large-caliper trees instead of our usual one. And, we got some t-shirts, hats, and banners!
Can you tell us about your NYSUFC involvement? What would you say to others thinking about joining the Board after they’ve been approached to do so?
RH: I was part of the Region 7 ReLeaf Committee when I was asked to be a part of the Council in 2007. The greatest benefit of being part of the Board was the network. I had the opportunity to work on projects with people from around the state. Board members also were some of the first to hear the latest urban forestry news—that’s a nice advantage! I am part of my city’s (Norwich) tree commission, and being part of the Board and the Council has certainly helped with ideas and writing when applying for the NYSDEC Urban and Community Forestry Cost-Share grants. We’ve had many successful proposals.
I would say to people thinking about joining the Board that being a member is a great way to be part of something larger and a way to make positive change for urban forestry across the state as well as for their local communities. There are so many people (elected officials, volunteers, homeowners, the general public) that don’t know about the benefits that trees provide and what a difference trees can make.
When you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks you what urban forestry is, and you only have about 60 seconds to answer, what do you say?
RH: I actually get this a lot; people often tell me that “urban forestry” is an oxymoron! I tell them that urban forestry is the management of trees and greenspaces in cities and communities, and that they are managed to maintain their heath, but also for the benefits they provide.
What’s something your NYSUFC colleagues might not know about you?
RH: I have an identical twin sister who also has a BS in forestry (from Syracuse ESF). She’s a science teacher now, but we’re both married to DEC foresters.
Anything else you want to be sure to share?
RH: 2015 marked my last year on the Council Board. I just want to say “thank you” to all of those I’ve worked with over the years. It was a fun and productive nine years. I’ve met a lot of great people that I enjoy seeing and working with, and I look forward to working with everyone in the future.