Inside the Source: A Conversation with Tammy Cushing

 January 22, 2020

Below is an article featured in The Forestry Source, January 2020. To learn more about The Forestry Source, click here. To learn more about SAF membership, click here.

The President’s Agenda: A Conversation with Tammy Cushing
By Steve Wilent

Tamara L. Cushing began her term as SAF’s president on January 1, after serving a year as vice-president. She is no stranger to leadership positions within the Society, having been chair of the House of Society Delegates (HSD) and chair of both the Kentucky/Tennessee SAF and South Carolina SAF, among numerous other roles.

Cushing is an assistant professor of practice, Extension specialist, and Starker Chair of Private and Family Forestry in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management at Oregon State University. An SAF member for more than 20 years, she received SAF’s Young Forester Leadership Award in 2011 and was named an SAF Fellow in 2017.

I spoke with Cushing in December about her priorities for 2020 and beyond.

In the vision statement you submitted as a candidate for vice-president in 2018, you wrote that “This is a critical time for SAF. Of particular concern is the failure to retain student members after they graduate.” Have we made progress since then? What can we do in the future to retain more students as members?

Yes, I think we’ve made progress in recent years in some ways, but not in other ways. When I think back on my days as a student, we [students] didn’t have a seat on the SAF Council, now the Board of Directors. I served as the National Student Assembly chair, so I had a seat on the House of Society Delegates (HSD), but it was a nonvoting position. I was welcome at HSD, but I didn’t have a vote. And we had no representation whatsoever on the Board of Directors. But for four or five years now, students have had representation at the Board level—a nonvoting position, but still a voice on the Board of Directors. Brittany Church, the current student representative on the Board, is at the table and she’s able to voice her opinions, coming from a student angle. That’s definitely an improvement. We are constantly talking about students now—they’re not just attending meetings; they are actively engaged with Board members, and they want to be more engaged with the Society. We have to make sure their voices are heard even more than they are now. We have to make sure they know that they do have a voice, that they know a student sits at the table with the SAF leadership at the national level. We need to make that position more visible, make it a position that students really want to get. 

But we’re still losing too many students as members after they graduate, and that’s one area where we haven’t made much progress. We’ve taken steps to include students, and maybe that means we’re keeping some of them as members, but we’re still losing a lot of them as they leave their institutions and go out into the workplace. How do we change that? There is a reduced membership rate and I’m sure that’s appreciated, but I believe some of these new professionals are looking for a way to engage in a meaningful way. As professionals, we need to reach out when a new graduate moves into our area, or is hired into our company or organization, and get them involved in the local chapter. We all want to feel welcome and invited. I’d encourage everyone to invite the new graduate or employee to attend a meeting with you and help them meet other members.

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