By STEVEN NALLEY
The Society of American Foresters has named Mississippi State University’s student chapter as the best in the country.
The MSU students competed with 75 other student SAF chapters for the honor, judged on service to members, the community and the forestry program, as well as other criteria. Robert Grala, an associate forestry professor at MSU, is the faculty advisor for the chapter, and he said the chapter has distinguished itself through an emphasis on service.
“The chapter is very active and involved in many activities that benefit not only the forestry profession, but also the university, college, and local community,” Grala said. “The chapter sets high professional and ethical standards and ensures that chapter traditions and involvement are passed on to the next generations of members. The chapter organizes many events to reach out not only to our members but also to the general student population. Interaction with administration, faculty, staff and student and professional organizations helps facilitate chapter activities and maintain chapter success.”
The chapter’s activities include planting trees for Arbor Day, assisting with MSU’s Wood Magic Science Fair and preparing Project Learning Tree, an annual program which teaches students about different tree species, tree products and environmental conservation. It also is involved in Adopt-a-Highway and Habitat for Humanity, and helps organize and prepare several events under the College of Forest Resources umbrella. Finally, members represent MSU at several forestry conferences on the state, regional and national level, including the Society of American Foresters National Convention.
Greg Bentley, a senior majoring in forestry at MSU, said in addition to service, another criterion SAF used was the chapter’s performance in a collegiate variation on the Stihl Timbersports Series aired on ESPN. Events include not only athletic events like log rolling and cross-cut sawing, but also technical events like wood identification, he said.
The MSU chapter did not win the games this year, Bentley said, but it did place in the top 10, and that helped it earn the title of overall best chapter. Support from MSU students and faculty also helped the chapter, he said.
“It first starts with great leadership from our professors,” Bentley said. “They really help us stay on track. It’s also the student body. We take great pride in our student body.”
Andy Ezell, head of the MSU forestry department, said MSU’s investment in the group pays dividends for the futures of both the students and the university.
“We consider that to be a premier distinction for the students and our department, because our department supports the students on many of their projects,” Ezell said. “It’s a chance for our program to be recognized all across the country and even internationally for their accomplishments.”
Grala said this is not the first time the MSU chapter has placed first; in fact, it is the fifth time since 1996. They have also placed in the top three every year for the past 11 years.
“The students are proud of their chapter and know that it plays an important role in their professional carrier path,” Grala said. “Students work hard each year and set high standards for the next generation of members. Each year, new members are invited, and knowledge and traditions are passed on to the next generation of students who strive to maintain high standards. Faculty and staff help maintain these traditions and help the chapter in many ways.”
Between building a resume and building a winning tradition, Bentley said, the winning tradition is more important to him.
“We’ve been able to show we can place first,” Bentley said. “I think that will be something for our students to follow to keep the tradition alive.”