The Future of SAF: Colleen Purefoy

May 21, 2020

This month, The Forestry Source features Colleen Purefoy. After a career in banking, Purefoy decided to pursue her passion for preserving the country’s natural resources. Purefoy earned an associate’s degree in natural resources–forestry technician from Grays Harbor College and is now enrolled in its undergraduate program. She joined SAF in 2017 and is a member of the Grays Harbor student SAF chapter and Southwest Washington SAF chapter.

In her own words, Purefoy shares overcoming the challenge of returning to school and how her children motivated her to study forestry.

Finding My Passion in Forestry
By Colleen Purefoy

I grew up in Washington State in Grays Harbor County and graduated from Hoquiam High School in 1994. Immediately after graduating high school, I began working at a local bank. That turned into a 16-year banking career as I climbed the corporate ladder and eventually transferred to Olympia, where I worked as a customer service manager.

While in this position, I took a few years off to have two children. At that point in my life, I realized that I had an opportunity to attend college and learn the skills needed to have a career I would be passionate about. While growing up, I spent many weekends hiking, scuba diving, surfing, or camping. As a result of these experiences, I have always had a deep reverence for nature and desired to have a career managing and preserving our natural resources. Leaving Earth a better place for future generations is a legacy I would be proud to leave for my children.

Balancing school, family, and work
Although I was anxious about attending Grays Harbor College because I had two small children and worked part-time, my previous work experience made me a diligent student. I have earned an associate’s degree in natural resources–forestry technician and am now in the bachelor’s program for forest resources management.

Since beginning my education, I have participated in an ongoing long-term research project about the benefits of multispecies forests. One summer, I gained valuable work experience with Wild Fish Conservancy typing and mapping streams. I have also served as an Earth Team member, volunteering with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Montesano.

In 2019, I spent the summer interning with the City of Montesano’s Forestry Department, where I gained more skills in natural resources. Some of the valuable experience I obtained was from setting up multiple harvest units, monitoring invasive species, mapping streams, and helping maintain trails around Lake Sylvia. This coming summer, I will intern for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources South Puget Sound District. One of my jobs will be setting up timber harvests in Capitol State Forest that will provide income for the local communities in Thurston and Mason Counties.

One major thing that allowed me to be successful as a full-time student with two young children (when I started school my daughters were two and five) was the availability of the library and computer labs Grays Harbor College. Doing homework at home with two little ones running around is not really an option. I used the public library a few times, but it wasn’t as quiet and calm an environment as the college library.

I was extremely happy that the library was open until 8 p.m. most weeknights, and the computer lab was open on weekends. I would not have been able to keep my grades up without these provisions. Keeping my grades up helped me qualify for scholarships, which were vital for me to continue my education, and I am extremely grateful for all the scholarships I have received.

The other support system that made returning to school possible has been daycare assistance scholarships. When I started, the cost for two children in full-time daycare was twice my tuition. There is no way we could have afforded for me to go to school and pay that. In addition, having a work study job in the college’s Human Resources Office has made a huge difference. Because of the office staff’s willingness to work around my schedule, it lowers my stress level tremendously while allowing me to earn a little income.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this quarter’s classes will be completely online, and my children will be doing homeschool. This will mean adjusting our routine at home, and I am a little nervous about that. Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband, and my professors are approachable and helpful.

What my kids think about my career path
My girls were very excited that their mom was learning science to help protect the planet. They love learning about plants when going on nature walks. As soon as we could put the girls in a kid carrier backpack, we would take them on hikes. They also know that pollution is bad, and when they see trash on the ground, they want to pick it up.

The value of skills gained in other careers
As a result of my banking career, I acquired many skills that will add to my career in natural resources. Through my leadership skills in the customer service division, I created a workplace with a positive environment that made my employees feel valued; this earned me an award for Most Improved Employee Retention in my district. The communication skills I gained in banking have helped me when working with others. There is a diverse set of individuals in forestry, and being able to relate and communicate with others is an essential part of being a forester.

Colleen Purefoy can be reached at

SAF members can read the full May 2020 edition here.