City of Mississauga Forestry Inspector uses Fleming education every day

leah-skinner-webCanada Day was extra special this year for Frost Campus graduate Leah Skinner. The Forestry Inspector for the City of Mississauga planned and created a Canadian flag flower bed as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

This is just one of the many cool responsibilities Leah has at the City of Mississauga. She manages contracts and budgets for boulevard grass maintenance and horticulture, inspects and creates work for City-owned trees, and works with councillors, management and residents to help answer questions and provide feedback.

Her thorough Fleming College education has come in handy with all of her job duties, she said. Leah is a four-time Frost Campus graduate, completing the Ecosystem Management Technician (2009), Forestry Technician (2010), Urban Forestry (2011) and Arboriculture (2011) programs.

leah-skinner-web“Basically all my education at Fleming has been useful in my career choice,” she said. Leah listed tree identification, climbing and safety, disease and pest identification, soil testing, and knot tying as some examples of applicable skills.

“I found continuing my studies would provide a more progressive and more specialized portfolio schooling-wise, completing the programs I chose to do,” she said. “I was unsure at the young age of 17, when I started school, of what I really wanted to be when I grew up. So I started to specialize once I understood what I had my passion for.”

Leah decided to come to Fleming College after attending the Frost Campus Open House. “I felt a sense of ‘coming home’ when I walked in the front entrance. The atmosphere was warm, welcoming, inviting and simply perfect,” Leah explained. “I had been to many other colleges and universities for their Open Houses, and Fleming was the last and final one. I knew from stepping in the building that this was going to be my school of choice.”

She describes her college experience as “enlightening” and “uplifting,” and said she learned a lot about herself during that time.

“I started school as a shy introverted student who sat in the front-right of the class, and didn’t say much and just did my work with my head down; to graduating and accomplishing many different things, such as being the Director of Student Activities and Affairs on the Student Council,” said Leah, who credits Fleming College with transforming her into an extrovert who felt comfortable asking questions in class.

She also volunteered at every Fleming Open House event during the six years she spent at the college. At the event, Leah shared her love of the campus, its programs, and encouraged women to pursue careers in the male-dominated Arboriculture industry.

She encourages everyone to attend Fleming College for their post-secondary studies because of the positive environment and faculty support.

“The professors are 200% invested in their students and it shows every day in class. The teachers would extend their office hours if a student was in need of help, they would stay late after class to help students study… and these are only a few things they did,” she said. “The college in general has a welcoming atmosphere where no one is judged. […] Everyone is simply kind in person and in soul at Fleming and it shows.”

Women in Trees encourages women to take their career to new heights

focusonfleming-main-picThe trees at Fleming College’s Frost Campus were filled with female climbers on Saturday, April 22. The tree climb was part of the Women in Trees Conference and Awareness Day, which promotes opportunities for women in the fields of Urban Forestry, Forestry and Arboriculture.

“As women, we are under-represented in this field. I’ve had parents call me and ask if their daughter could do this program,” said professor Katrina Van Osch-Saxon on why she created the Women in Trees event.

Katrina was speaking to a crowd of women in the Glenn Crombie Theatre at Frost Campus before introducing panelists Dr. Adrina Bardekjian, Manager of Urban Forestry Programs and Research Development at Tree Canada; Daniele Fleming, Staff Officer at Power Workers’ Union; and Jessica Kaknevicius, Director of Forest Education and Awareness at Forests Ontario. The female industry experts shared their career experiences and inspired the enthusiastic audience.

Adrina shared her journey from climbing orange trees in Italy with her sister to a career with Tree Canada, where she directs the Canadian Urban Forest Network and Strategy. She is also an active board member of the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition. She initially started her career path in creative writing, but gradually moved towards this field by putting herself in new situations outside of her comfort zone.

“It took a while to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Adrina, who encourages others to learn new things, work with different people, learn from each other, and be creative.

Jessica Kaknevicius agrees. “I like to do things that are uncomfortable and I probably shouldn’t be doing,” said Jessica, sharing her experience tree planting in Timmins, Ont., with limited previous nature experience.

Katrina Van Osch-Saxon (right) presents the panelists (centre) with wise owl carvings for sharing their wisdom. From the centre, left: Dr. Adrina Bardekjian, Jessica Kaknevicius, and Daniele Fleming.
Katrina Van Osch-Saxon (right) presents the panelists (centre) with wise owl carvings for sharing their wisdom. From the centre, left: Dr. Adrina Bardekjian, Jessica Kaknevicius, and Daniele Fleming.

Tree planting was a summer job for Jessica when she was a student at the University of Toronto. Her original plan was to be a veterinarian, so Jessica enrolled in the Bachelor of Science program with a major in Zoology; but she “didn’t want to put all her eggs in one basket” and signed up to double-major with Forest Conservation.

“Growing up outdoorsy isn’t a pre-requisite for being in a career in forestry,” said Jessica, who said she did not explore jobs in natural resources when she was in high school. Jessica realized this passion later and encourages others to pursue this career through her role as Director of Forest Education and Awareness at Forests Ontario and as co-founder of Women in Wood, a networking group that connects women in the industry.

A few pieces of advice Jessica shared at Women in Trees are: find a mentor, sell numbers instead of emotions, don’t be resistant to change, and don’t be a “yes woman” (learn how to say no).

Although Adrina and Jessica both have many female colleagues, this was not the case when fellow panelist Daniele Fleming entered the industry in 1989 with Ontario Hydro as the first female Mechanical Heavy Equipment Operator with Forestry Services. It was her first career job after graduating from Fleming’s Forestry Technician program that year.

“Was it hard? Yes. I was one of the first women hired,” said Daniele. “I had people say to my face, ‘you shouldn’t be here. You took a job away from a man.’”

But Daniele said she proved her ability through hard work and dedication. She also had a supportive manager who believed in women working in trades. “I thought, ‘they believe in me, I believe in me,” she said.

Daniele had quite the career journey and animatedly discussed it with the engaged crowd. From the humour of doing a CTV interview during an ice storm to the devastation of losing a friend on the job site, Daniele discussed the highs and lows of her career.

“I deserve this job. I worked hard for it,” she said. “[My generation] may have graveled the road, but there’s still some paving to go.”

Daniele hopes to see more women working in the industry, especially in the management roles which currently have very few females.

focusonfleming-articleAfter the panel discussion and networking lunch, Daniele, her fellow panelists and Women in Trees participants were geared up to enjoy a tree climb in the beautiful warm weather.

Stephanie Burns, Forest Operations Coordinator at Forests Ontario, was happy to return to her alma mater for the event. Stephanie graduated from the Forestry Technician program in 2011 and the Urban Forestry program in 2012, and chose to pursue this career because she feels healthier and happier being outdoors.

“I talk to everyone about Fleming. It’s really fundamental for being in Forestry,” said Stephanie. “A lot of the skills I’ve needed are from Fleming, without a doubt Fleming prepared me for Forests Ontario.”

On the Women in Trees event, Stephanie added “Fleming always has a place in my heart and it’s great seeing women inspired to climb trees.”

Tune in below to watch video coverage of the event: