Valedictorian Hengda Liu makes nature his office

Dream big, take on challenges, and don’t quit.

Hengda Liu says this is his credo in life and he wants to share it with fellow graduates of the School of Environmental & Natural Resource Sciences at convocation, where the Forestry Technician graduate will serve as Valedictorian this Friday.

Hengda came to Fleming College’s Frost Campus as an international student from China, wanting to learn everything about nature.

“Just like many other Forestry Technician students, instead of working behind a desk we want nature to be our office,” he said. “I want to be one of those forestry professionals to seek the harmony zone between our economic needs and ecological sustainability. This is why I chose the Forestry Technician program: its outdoors, meaningful, hands-on – get my hands and boots dirty – and I get to stay in the environment where I’m supposed to be in.”

He credits the College for its efforts on making Frost Campus sustainable, and appreciates the warm and welcoming campus community.

“The faculty, staff and students here at Fleming are incredibly friendly and warm. They have never treated me differently because I am from another country or because of my language barrier,” said Hengda. “I have always felt like a part of the Fleming family, and I am really proud and grateful for that.”

Hengda said the Forestry Technician program combines theory with hands-on experience to prepare students for their careers, including fundamental skills courses like communications and applied mathematics, as well as forestry skills courses like forest inventory and forest management using GIS, among others. He describes the faculty as very supportive, helpful and “lightning fast” to respond to emails.

“I’ve truly learned a lot during my time here at Fleming and I want to pat my own back to thank myself for choosing Fleming. Great job, Hengda!” he laughs, patting his back.

The programs two field camps were Hengda’s favourite experience at Fleming. At The Canadian Ecology Centre and Haliburton Forest, students learned how to safely operate a chainsaw, canoed to an island to do a stream assessment, participated in tree planting, took forest inventory, and more.

“We basically combined the knowledge we learned in school and applied it to the real world during these two camps, with the help and supervision of forestry professionals who are working in the industry,” said Hengda, who also enjoyed networking with experienced technicians and forest managers at the field camps.

Outside of class, Hengda worked part-time at a local Chinese restaurant, Friendly Restaurant, which improved his English speaking skills and cooking skills.

“I am an okay chef now,” he said. “I love to cook some Chinese food for my friends sometimes and the smiles on their faces while they are eating my dishes is such a priceless reward.”

Moments such as this are treasured memories to Hengda, who enjoys documenting life and has a passion for video editing. He created a YouTube channel to share his Fleming experiences with others, including this beautiful tribute video for the teachers, technicians and staff of Fleming’s Forestry and Urban Forestry programs.

Video by Hengda Liu as a tribute to Fleming’s teachers, technicians and staff from the 2019 Forestry and Urban Forestry programs.

Now that Hengda has completed classes at Frost Campus, he is working full-time as a Forestry Technician at Spectrum Resource Group, a forestry consulting company in Prince George, British Columbia.

“Last shift, we went to a logging camp in a place called Ospika, BC, where you can’t even find it on the map! It’s a mountainous area and we were constantly climbing a 75% slope with tons of blowdowns and devil’s clubs,” he explained. “It’s tough but I loved every single piece of it. It’s a dream come true for me.”

He plans to continue growing his career in this field, and hopes to one day lead others in sustainable forest management and to enhance communication between Canada and China in terms of forestry.

“What I love about the Forestry Technician career path is that it is outdoors,” he said. “As a Forestry Technician, we are literally getting paid to walk in the forest. The forest is my office, birds and wild animals are my sidekicks. Nature is where I came from and I want to be there for the rest of my life.”

Forestry Technician graduate Eric Butson will represent Frost Campus as a Grad Recruiter

ericForestry Technician graduate Eric Butson is looking forward to representing Frost Campus when he travels across Ontario this fall. Eric is a Grad Recruiter for Student Recruitment and will be sharing information about Fleming College with prospective students.

“What I’m looking forward to most as a Grad Recruiter is the opportunity to help secondary school students realize their potential and share with them the opportunities to grasp that potential at Fleming,” said Eric, who graduated from the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences this year.

Eric said he learned to embrace his weaknesses and face his fears head-on while at Fleming, which he said is the best way to grow personally and professionally.

To clear his mind, Eric said he loves visiting the Loggersports practice site, which is his favourite spot on campus. “It is a place where I spent many nights working hard to perfect my events, clearing my head and escaping the grind of academics for a little while,” he explained.

In addition to Loggersports and his studies in the Forestry Technician program, Eric also worked as a Student Ambassador for Student Recruitment, giving campus tours to prospective students, welcoming guests at Fleming’s Open House, and more.

“Getting to show individuals that are interested in your college what makes it so special to you hardly seemed like work,” he said. “As a Grad Recruiter, I get to hold a similar position and connect with so many more prospective students on a different platform.”

So what makes Fleming so special for Eric? The campus culture.

“My faculty and peers truly wanted everyone to succeed and it was a refreshing experience,” he said. “When speaking with prospective students, the reason I believe they should come to Fleming is because it is a unique college that blends excellence in academics with a student life experience for all individuals.”

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: