Grace Steger is an environmental conservation and society major with a minor in both forestry and urban forestry going into her senior year at Virginia Tech. She already is working to better the forest industry as an urban forestry intern working alongside Virginia Tech’s arborist, Jamie King.

“My work is easy because caring for the environment is something I've always been passionate about, and being able to apply that passion to something makes the days go by really easily,” Steger said. “[King] does a good job of building a framework of understanding for me when we start working on a new project or opportunity. He explains how the work I'm going to do will impact the campus, the university, or a specific tree. It makes my work really meaningful.”

Steger was hired to work for King last summer and has been interning with him in the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities ever since.

“It's been really great; [King] is about as good of a boss as I could ask for because he's very understanding and always looking to immerse me in new opportunities,” Steger said. “I've had a good time getting to know a broad scale of different sides of the urban forestry and the tree care industry.”

During her first summer with King, Steger was able to participate in operational, hands-on learning opportunities through her work with the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities’ urban forestry crew, which handles work on campus such as pruning, planting, and tree removals. 

Coming up, Steger said she will be working more with data collection and management and exploring how the two can be integrated into the management of the urban forest here at Virginia Tech.

Grace Steger performs a catalog of trees on Virginia Tech's golf course. Photo by Meghan Marsh for Virginia Tech.

But Steger didn’t always know she was interested in the forest industry. Prior to attending Virginia Tech, she came to the Blacksburg campus for a three-week summer camp for first-generation college students. After falling in love with Virginia Tech’s engineering technology, she thought she knew what she wanted to do. 

“I thought I fell in love with the program because they showed us all the coolest things in engineering, but I got here and it got hard really quickly,” Steger said. “I had to decide if [engineering] was really what I wanted to do and if it was worth all the work because I had a hard time finding passion in it.”

After realizing that she couldn’t see herself working as an engineer in the future, Steger reached out to some juniors and seniors and a few professors before choosing her current major. She added a minor in forestry and urban forestry and said her internship with King has greatly complemented her academic work. 

“[Environmental conservation and society] is a nice, broad, environmental kind of resource management major that will allow me to focus on whatever I want to in the future.”

Looking ahead, Steger will continue working with King this summer to begin building an inventory of the trees in the old growth forest adjacent to Lane Stadium. 

“[This] is an incredible opportunity for me to learn more about the background of my coursework this semester, and I've gotten to build a lot of skills that'll help facilitate the project,” Steger said. “I'll be leading a team of interns collecting data in the woods all summer long and then compiling and analyzing it at the end of the summer. It'll be a great way to use a lot of the more academic skills I've learned through this job.”

Beyond that, Steger knows that she wants to continue working in the forest industry after graduation. 

“I've entered this niche of specific skills in urban forestry, and I hope that whatever I do after graduation, I'll be able to apply most of those skills. I really love the hands-on work. It amazes me that people get paid to climb trees and that it makes a difference in the greater scheme of things.”

Written by Grace Hobson

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