The Future of SAF: Lauren Pile 

November 13, 2019

Continuing with our profiles of up-and-coming SAF members who will continue managing our nation’s natural resources in the coming decades, this month The Forestry Source features Lauren Pile. Pile completed her undergraduate degree from American Military University and earned a master’s and PhD from Clemson University. In 2012, she was an SAF Diversity Scholar and has been a member of the Keowee SAF and High Sierra SAF chapters. In addition, she served as student representative to the Appalachian SAF. She is currently a member of Missouri State (MOSAF).

As a research ecologist with the US Forest Service’s Northern Research Station at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Pile works on issues that affect the resilience of eastern hardwood and hardwood-pine forests.

In her own words, Pile shares how she found her way to forestry and how the inherent comradery within the profession can inspire fellow foresters and the next generation.

Lauren Pile: The Connection between Hardwood Forests and the Dream Job
By Lauren S. Pile

I have my dream job that I got to in a roundabout way. While growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I never knew you could be a forest scientist or go to school for forestry. Yet here I am, approaching almost two years as a research ecologist with the Northern Research Station.

I am one of those nontraditional PhD folks. Several family hardships and my inability to deal with them resulted in barely graduating high school with a cumulative 1.67 GPA. Fortunately, my athletic abilities as a softball catcher earned me an acceptance letter to Chowan University in North Carolina. However, my parents had no ability to support me, and I could not afford tuition or a basic standard of living. I made it one year. Thereafter, I was on my own, but determined to make my way in the world.

Over the following years, I bounced around seeking full-time employment, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and going to school when I could afford it. I worked my way up in retail management, but the additional responsibility made continuing school difficult. After my third brick-and-mortar university and several states in between, I knew the only way I would finish my bachelor’s degree was online. During this time, I became more self-aware and was no longer interested in pursuing psychology. I loved science, cared deeply about the environment, and enjoyed being outdoors. I finished my degree (with honors) nine years after graduating high school—entirely online and in environmental science.

A semester before I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I decided to quit my position in retail management at a big box store in Connecticut and move to South Carolina. Laser focused, my intent was to attend Clemson University and study forestry. I had not even applied to the graduate school before quitting and moving, but something told me I had to take a giant leap of faith. Naively, I applied, without realizing graduate school was a full-time endeavor that included a stipend. I’d be paid to do it! I started my master’s in forestry resources (non-thesis) in the fall of 2009. By December 2015, I had earned a master’s degree and a PhD from one of the best public universities in the country. I am a proud Clemson Tiger and forestry graduate—the faculty and staff there gave this nontraditional student a chance and nurtured my hopes and dreams.

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