UF/IFAS CALS Alumni Earn Leadership Positions with the Society of American Foresters
By Kim Scotto and Dana Edwards
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After becoming involved with the Society of American Foresters (SAF) as students at the University of Florida, two alumni of the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) will serve in leadership roles with the organization. Terry Baker was appointed the organization’s CEO in September, and Tamara “Tammy” Cushing was elected vice-president of SAF. Cushing’s term began Jan. 1.
Terry Baker, CEO of the Society of American Foresters
As a CALS student, Baker volunteered with SAF in 2002. He never imagined that he would one day be leading the organization.
This fall, after almost two decades of engagement with SAF, Baker was appointed the organization’s CEO. He is the first African-American to serve in this position.
As a child growing up in the panhandle of Florida, Baker spent his childhood outdoors hunting and fishing, but didn’t learn about forestry as a career path until his senior year of high school. A college recruiter suggested that he pursue a joint program with Florida A&M University and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences School of Forest Resources and Conservation (SFRC), and he immediately felt at home in SFRC.
“There was a real sense of connection and community, and a push for us to all strive and accomplish great things,” Baker said.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2004, Terry matriculated through the master of forestry program at Yale University. He then served as deputy forester supervisor on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland in Fort Collins, Colorado. This fall, he relocated to Washington, D.C. with his wife to serve as the CEO of the Society of American Foresters.
In his new position, Terry hopes to engage and educate the public more effectively about the value of forestry and forestry professionals.
“Forestry is the centerpiece to effective land management,” Baker said. “Forestry professionals play a valuable role in the sustainability of our nation’s forests, our local communities and state’s economies.”
Baker also continues to motivate and inspire future generations of foresters. Ten undergraduate members of the UF Society of American Foresters chapter attended this October’s SAF convention in Portland, Oregon, and had the opportunity to meet Baker, hear him speak and catch a glimpse of what their futures could hold.
Tamara “Tammy” Cushing, President-elect of the Society of American Foresters
Growing up along the beaches of Tampa, Cushing always had the desire to work toward protecting and preserving the planet. Like many students in CALS, Cushing found her major of forest resources and conservation major after taking an introductory course recommended by her adviser.
“My desire to learn more about the environment was satisfied,” Cushing said. “The course showed me that we can use resources in a way in which we can receive multiple benefits from them. It’s not about locking everything up; it’s about a wise-use mentality.”
Cushing became involved in SAF as a student after a faculty member encouraged her to join. The opportunities to meet professionals in the industry was something she couldn’t pass up.
“I met people I ultimately would be working with in the future,” Cushing said. “I met the immediate past-president of SAF when I was in my undergraduate program. You never know what connections you’ll make.”
After her graduation from UF in 1996, Cushing went on to earn a master’s degree in forest economics and a master of taxation from Mississippi State University in 1999. She worked at F&W Forestry consulting firm in South Georgia for four years before pursuing her Ph.D. in forest finance at the University of Georgia.
After nine years as an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky and Clemson University, Cushing moved west in 2014 to serve as the Starker Chair of Private and Family Forestry at Oregon State University. In her current role, Cushing has a 25 percent teaching and 75 percent Extension appointment serving land-owners and helping them understand the tax implications of owning forest land through workshops and presentations.
“I love helping private land-owners meet their goals and objectives for their land,” Cushing said. “You can see when people are learning when their eyes light up and you see that lightbulb of knowledge go off. I love getting out of bed in the morning and getting to make a difference – I just happen to be doing that through the business side.”
Serving in a president-elect capacity before becoming SAF president in 2020, Cushing aims to connect professionals in the forestry fields through support networks. She believes maintaining personal relationships in the digital age is necessary for the industry to thrive. Her advice to current students runs along the same vein.
“My outlook is to help students make connections so that they understand that there is a reason for everything they are learning in school,” Cushing said. “I encourage student to never turn away opportunities to meet other people within the profession, because you never know when those connections will be beneficial to one or both parties in the future.”
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.