Student feels at home with Forest Service thanks to HCC
At age 14, Haywood Community College forest management technology student Alexandra Lewis figured out what her career would be. That summer, she worked with the United States Forest Service digging trails and taking care of camp sites.
“I loved it from the beginning,” she said. “To be outdoors every day and see what God has created, to be in a different place doing something different each day is amazing.”
Now Lewis has six summers and two years of part-time year round employment with the U.S. Forest Service on her resume.
One thing required for the job is dedication and determination. Two days after returning from her honeymoon in October, Lewis was called by the Forest Service to help with the wild fires that were raging around Western North Carolina. Working up to 18-hour days for 21 days straight while attending school full-time gave her experience to add to her skillset.
“Driving through 10- to 30-foot flames on both sides of the road to deliver dinner to 400 workers literally in the line of fire required me to learn how to handle stress,” Lewis said. “I learned to prioritize and be able to adapt to whatever the job called for.”
But how did the Franklin native end up in school at HCC? The journey began when she was a junior in high school. She started taking forestry classes through the Career and College Promise program where she earned college credit while still in high school free of charge.
Lewis learned about HCC’s forest management technology program by word of mouth. She competed in forestry competitions in high school through Future Farmers of America. Working summers with the Forest Service, she started hearing about HCC from professionals in the field.
Lewis says it is amazing how far the college’s graduates have gone in the field.
“People that came to WNC to work on the forest fires knew about HCC from their experience in the field. I even was asked to bring t-shirts to some of the alumni from the college’s bookstore.”
Lewis says in her job, she is able to use the skills she is learning at HCC to identify trees, mark timber for sales, and paint land lines.
“I learned these skills by going with small van loads of students out in the field where we do exactly what will be expected in the workforce.”
Lewis worked her way up in the Forest Service. She spent many summers in the Nantahala Ranger District counting rafters that go down the Nantahala River twice per month, cleaning toilets at the campgrounds, and weed eating and mowing campsites.
Lewis says it’s sometimes tough to prove her knowledge and experience to people she encounters. With long blond hair and manicured nails, she is not the typical picture of a forest ranger, but her aptitude is soon proven to the non-believers.
Lewis relates a story about taking her vehicle for an oil change where a technician told her she needed a new filter. He brought a tablet in the waiting room to show her a picture of the filter with leaves clogging it up. She was quick to realize that the filter was clogged with leaves that only grow on the coast, making it impossible to be her filter.
At HCC, Lewis works as a Student Ambassador where she enjoys sharing her experiences at the school while leading tours and talking to potential students. She is also the secretary for HCC’s Student Chapter of the Society of American Foresters.
Last spring, Lewis studied abroad with instructors and fellow HCC students. On a nine-day trip to Nicaragua, she studied the deforestation and forestry of the region. “I visited with botanists, biologists, and farmers. I kayaked in the mangroves and picked coconuts and bananas from the trees.”
Lewis is a true mix of girly girl and tom girl. She enjoys cooking, getting her nails and hair done, archery, hunting, and fishing. She teaches children at her church how to shoot bow and arrow through a program called Centershot.
“At HCC, I am able to get the education I really desired from a school with a great reputation in the field, all while saving money and being close to home and family.”
When Lewis’ brother finishes high school, he plans to follow in his sister’s footsteps and come to the HCC Forest Management Technology Program.
For more information about HCC’s Forest Management Technology Program, please call 828-627-4626 or visit haywood.edu.
Haywood Community College (HCC) is part of the North Carolina Community College System and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Founded in 1965, it is an open-door institution with the mission to provide accessible and affordable high-quality education, workforce training and lifelong learning. This includes programs for Haywood County high school students through Career and College Promise and Haywood Early College. The college campus, a designated arboretum, boasts one of the most beautiful college campuses in the state with an iconic mill pond, productive greenhouses, a dahlia garden, an orchard garden, working vegetable gardens and a rhododendron garden.