MDC Grant benefits Garden's urban forester

Sam Wright

A successful grant application by MU/Mizzou Botanic Garden (MUBG) Horticulture Manager Jenna Sommer to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Community Forestry Cost-Share program provided MU/MUBG’s urban forester with an opportunity for professional development with a personal flavor.


“I knew I wanted to pursue some sort of additional accreditation or training and this opportunity was tailored toward professional growth and not something I’d ever experienced,” Forester Sam Wright said of the Urban & Community Forestry Society’s (UCFS) Municipal Forestry Institute (MFI) he attended in February.


Wright explained that UCFS’s mission is to build the confidence, competence and camaraderie of their professional members — those who manage trees and forests.


MU’s urban forester was one of 68 out of more than 100 applicants to be selected for the week-long institute, which emphasized, among other things, management, leadership, program planning and administration as well as networking, personal growth and public relations skills.


“It literally catered to people who serve urban forests,” Wright said. “There were state and regional foresters, municipal arborists and a lot of non-profits who engage in community tree planting.”


Each day the institute tackled a different aspect of leadership skill development, topics Wright said all worked together.


“I pulled a lot out of each. It was extremely personal, playing on deeper level human aspects of leadership,” Wright said. “There were some very uncomfortable moments. It was unlike any professional development I’d ever experienced.


“I could apply it to my own position and to the bigger picture of serving the University as a whole.”


Wright said the daily leadership training required him to identify a “big hairy audacious goal” or BHAG, which is “Align the work of Landscape Service’s Forestry with the academic mission of the university; to bolster the scholarly environment to enhance education, research and service.”


As part of his Wright said as part of his BEHG, he was tasked to identify a specific issue or problem and then come up with goals and ideas to create an opportunity action plan with practical, actionable steps to implement it.


In the past, MUBG has been designated a Tree Campus USA, a program of the Arbor Day Foundation. During the pandemic, the program faltered. Sommer and Wright both have been interested in relaunching it and through the Institute, Wright decided to make Tree Campus the focus of his challenge.


“I left MFI with a ready-to-implement project: ‘A Higher Commitment to Higher Education of the University of Missouri Tree Campus’,” Wright said.


“The institute was a real personal and professional growth opportunity. I’m grateful for the effort that Jenna contributed and the support from the MDC Community Forestry Grant that allowed me to take advantage of it.”


As he works to elevate Tree Campus higher education status, Wright said, in cooperation with the university and the Arbor Day Foundation, his efforts will reflect his institute BHAG.


MFI training helped him identify his strengths, what is important to him and to recognize his potential to be successful in the Tree Campus leadership role.


“I plan to make the Tree Campus program more meaningful to stakeholders at all levels, from administration to faculty, staff and students.


“I am working to create an advisory committee to meet on behalf of the Tree Campus Program.”


MU has a forestry program and several student groups as well as faculty Wright has identified as partners.


Wright also would like to leverage his role on the City of Columbia’s tree board, to include community members and serve as a catalyst to build relationships beyond the campus.


An annual Arbor Day celebration and a service-learning project are included in his action plan. Related efforts will include a regular update of the campus tree care plan. He also intends to organize dedicated yearly expenditures to align with the hard focus on the campus canopy.


“In an effort to align us with the standards of the Tree Campus program, on April 26 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., we are holding an Arbor Day observance with a tree planning and service-learning project for students,” Wright said.


“We’ll be planting trees and shrubs in cluster plantings along Rollins Road, near the Bond Life Sciences Center.


“My hope is that we will continue with more of these visible, campus connection events in the future.