Harper graduated from the Student Career Experience Program, which provides work experience directly related to students’ academic programs or career goals. The program exposes students to public service while enhancing their educational goals.
During her first summer in the Student Career Experience Program in 2005, she performed interpretation and naturalist duties for the U.S. Forest Service at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center in Juneau, Alaska.
“I was definitely out of my normal element, both geographically and professionally,” said Harper. “The experience demanded understanding customer-service responsibilities that were different from my forestry training skills and gave me a different outlook from my city-girl perspective on connecting with nature.”
Harper started her college education at Florida A&M University and then received a scholarship and transferred to Alabama A&M University, the only historically black college and university with an accredited forestry program.
She began working at the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area in the summer of 2006. After she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in forest management in 2009, she became a fulltime forester trainee. At Land Between the Lakes, she learned the basic skills a professional forester needs for the job: marking timber, designing a timber sale, building maps, working with other agencies, developing timber appraisals and understanding contracting procedures. She also learned shovel-testing techniques to search for cultural artifacts in historical areas where there might be relics.
“Because Land Between the Lakes is a small forest, it was an all-hands-on deck environment where every pair of hands was needed to push a project. This meant I got to experience every department so my experience was above and beyond my expectations.”
In May 2012, she moved to her prescription forester position on the Bienville National Forest where she is learning the ropes involved in understanding a new landscape comprised of different types of tree species and vegetation.
“I’m collecting data on a predominately pine forest so I can write prescriptions for the kinds of treatments needed for optimum forest health. Is a specific type of thinning needed? Would timber removal aid restoration? Would an herbicide treatment improve a timber stand? I’m working to enhance the forest condition to its desired condition as part of a management plan.”
As Harper completes her transition to professional forester, she plans to share the training opportunities she has enjoyed and hopes to inspire others.
“I want to know that the work I do today has no glitches in it so that down the road, the landscapes I’ve worked on will continue to offer the public opportunities that are part of the Forest Service multiple-use mission,” she said.
Harper was recently spotlighted in Faces of the Forest, a periodic Forest Service web feature which showcases the people, places and professions within the agency.