The University of Florida graduate shares what it was like growing up in a logging family, and what made him choose to become a forester.
If you want to know about Nolan Ward’s work ethic, just ask how he spent his school vacations as a kid.
“Instead of spring break, I went to the woods and made money,” recalls the Rayonier technical forester.
Nolan is the fourth generation in his family to work in the forest. It all started when his great-grandfather started a logging company in their hometown of Lake Butler, Florida. The business eventually passed down to Nolan’s grandfather, and then to his father.
“Most of the time, I’d run a tractor. As I got older, I would run the cut down machines and load logs,” Nolan recalls. “I always enjoyed the ‘grind’ of working in the woods.”
Choosing Forestry College
There was no doubt a career in the forest was the right fit for Nolan, but some advice from his mother stuck with him.
“She told me, ‘When you’re a logger, you’re married to logging. You just date your wife,’” Nolan recalls. “You work long, 15-hour days. Even on the weekends, you’re tending to your equipment. I knew that wasn’t ideal if I wanted to have a family one day.”
He started out studying civil engineering, but soon realized working in the woods was still his passion. That’s when he enrolled at the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences to major in forest resources and conservation.
Nolan’s undergraduate program, offered through what is now known as the School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences, utilizes an experimental forest, the Austin Cary Forest, for hands-on learning. “We would go out and do labs, try to understand wetlands, watching how rainfall affects the woods. We went out in the field for class at least once a week, for three hours at a time.”
For Nolan, it was a perfect fit.
“We weren’t just stuck in a classroom being lectured; I didn’t spend college in a library studying,” he says. But it was still challenging.
“My specialization was forest business management, which gives you some of the business world of forestry. The toughest part was financial accounting. It was tough!”
A Small Community with Big Networking Opportunities
Both at UF and in the industry overall, forestry is a relatively “small world” according to Nolan. That was his ideal situation because he made some of the best friends of his life.
“We did group projects that made us really learn how to work with different people. I now have friends from all over the state and all over the country,” he says.
With a high demand for workers in the forestry industry, Nolan found there were a lot of scholarship opportunities for forestry students. There were also internships with well-known companies. And that’s how he got his start with Rayonier.
He had already heard about Rayonier through his father’s logging company. Then a group of Rayonier employees came to UF to speak about Rayonier internship opportunities and Nolan applied.
He was accepted twice, interning with Rayonier in both 2018 and 2019.
“I just enjoyed it. I really liked the people and felt like there was a good support system. We were outside doing something different every day: site prep, fertilization, cruising, land management. It really opened my eyes,” Nolan says.
Joining the Rayonier Team
After graduation, Nolan went back to working in the woods with his dad’s logging company at first. Then one day, a friend from Rayonier called to tell him about a job opening.
For Nolan, relationships are an important factor in decision making: He chose forestry rather than logging with his future family in mind, and he loved UF’s forest resources and conservation program largely because of the relationships he built with classmates and faculty. And, ultimately, it was his relationship with the Rayonier team that made the job the right fit for him.
“The type of people you’ll meet at Rayonier are good, honest, and they treat you fairly. They’re like family,” he says.
To students considering a similar academic path, he offers this advice: “If you want a field with job opportunities anywhere in the country, and you want to work outside, you can’t beat it.”