In our Rayonier Graduates series, we’re talking to recent Forestry College graduates who now work for Rayonier. In this story, Ph.D. candidate April Meeks shares her love of the technical and scientific sides of forestry and why she chose to study forestry at North Carolina State University.
April Meeks is a forestry nerd—and she embraces the title proudly. The Rayonier Tree Improvement Scientist and Research and Development Coordinator loves math, computer models and the outdoors.
“I grew up in the woods,” says the North Carolina native. “My parents really fostered an environment for me to appreciate the environment—the trees and the plants and the animals.”
April began her education at Appalachian State University where she studied environmental science. She knew she wanted to work in some aspect of the outdoors or the environment, but it was pretty broad. Then, she discovered forestry and had what she describes as an “aha moment.”
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I need to be doing—working with trees!’” says April. “I learned how much you get to use math and take what you see in the environment and come back to the computer and run different analyses to make projections for what the future might hold.”
Math, data science, outdoor adventure: forestry checked all her boxes, but April knew she’d need more education. That’s when she enrolled in the Master of Science in Forestry program at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. While there she focused on silviculture. April graduated with her MSc in Forestry in 2015 and decided to continue on at NCSU. She’s currently working toward a Ph.D. with a concentration in forest genetics.
“My favorite thing about studying forestry is being able to learn about how a tree grows and everything that it takes to make a tree grow,” she says. “The more I learned, the more I wanted. I just couldn’t get enough. That’s why I kept pursuing degrees.”
The Forest as a Living Laboratory
NCSU is one of the country’s top forestry schools, and a big part of its success is students’ access to forest land used for hands-on research and training. NCSU students have access to 85,000 acres of land contained in the Hosley, Goodwin, Gates, Taylor, Timaca, Lee and Hofmann forests. The College of Natural Resources controls another 9,000 acres in the Hill, Schenck, and Bull Neck Swamp tracts. These living laboratories allow students to get out of the classroom and into the forests throughout the course of their education.
Although she was not able to attend one, herself, April says NCSU’s summer intensive field camps have an excellent reputation. These summer studies, which involve traveling to several different forests, allow students to gain valuable practical knowledge and start to see what a career in forestry could look like.
“You cover everything in forestry in a hands-on manner,” April explains. “It’s that communication through hands-on learning that is really amazing.”
April was able to work for two forestry research cooperatives during her time as a graduate assistant at NCSU.
“We would do intensive field work in small teams in different parts of the South,” she says. “One time, we were in Alabama in July outside and we were dying from the heat. So, I went and bought Popsicles for everybody. Basically, I said, ‘Go measure this rep, and then you can have a Popsicle’ to keep the team high-spirited and keep them going.”
April has a lot of fond memories of her time at NCSU, but it’s mostly because she truly loves the work.
“It’s really fascinating to me to be able to take a living organism and correlate that to math, and then take that math and play with it and make projections with it,” she says. “It was the coupling of analytical skills with being outside in the fresh air—it was challenging. I am one of those personalities that need to be challenged and forestry fit the bill.”
Women Welcome in Forestry
April was the first woman to graduate from Appalachian State with an environmental science degree, so she’s used to being the only woman in her classes. When she got to forestry school at NCSU, it wasn’t much different.
“My classes in forestry school were all guys, my professors were all men, but I was really surprised at how welcomed I was into the community,” she says. “Everyone there was so excited that I was excited about forestry. The mentorship that I received was just superb. The community as a whole is very open and they just want to foster learning. It’s really a good community.”
Advice for Future Forestry Students
Now working for Rayonier out of our Andalusia, Alabama, office, April has a very simple piece of advice for students considering whether to study forestry: “Do it. You won’t regret it.”
“It’s really that simple for those interested in forestry, looking for something fast-paced and fun. There’s math behind it, policy behind it, and it’s a good way to challenge yourself to be a better steward of the environment too.”