In her position as forest supervisor for USDA Forest Service, Kelly Russell ’80 provides oversight and leader’s intent for management of the 1.2 million acres of the National Forests in Florida. Approximately 200 employees plus volunteers cover the gamut of managing the natural resources, from managing all aspect of wildlife and endangered species to firefighting, engineering, administrative needs, budgeting, prescribed burning, working with partners, and many other things.
After graduating from Wesleyan, this Pierce Scholar and biology major served as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where she worked on an aquaculture project with local farmers. This led her to Auburn University where she studied fisheries and eventually landed a job as a fisheries biologist with US Forest Service.
For the last twenty years, Kelly has served in leadership roles all around the country including the 3.3 million-acre Gila National Forest in New Mexico, the 1.7 million acre Klamath National Forest in Northern California, and the 1.8 million acre Ouachita National Forest in central Arkansas, plus three forest fisheries.
Kelly thinks that traditionally many of the natural resource management fields have attracted men, but a lot has changed since she began her career thirty-six years ago.
“I think women are more accepted in this field these days and not just looked at as someone who got their position due to some sort of equal opportunity requirement. It has been a nice change to see the evolution. My career has been challenging at times and there may have been some questioning my abilities as a woman in this field early in my career, but I’ve never encountered anything that I couldn’t handle.”
Kelly says she came to Wesleyan very much an introvert, but the small class sizes, the opportunities to be in leadership roles, participating on multiple sports teams, and helping to create the student newspaper all helped her embrace her strengths and learn how to meet challenges head-on in a way that made others successful, too. “These days I like the fact that I can make changes happen that will help preserve public lands for future generations. It is also important to me to set up my employees for success in their careers and to enable them to achieve their goals.”
Go in as yourself and do the best you can at whatever job you are assigned. Speak up and take opportunities to grow and improve your skills. Be willing to take on the projects no one else wants. Lead by example. Don’t take negative input from anyone that you don’t feel is warranted, but learn to take feedback graciously if it is genuine.
- Kelly Russell ’80
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