Fighting fires and a lack of diversity simultaneously affect the on-site fire academy in Alabama.
The academy is collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and several HBCUs: Alabama A&M University, Florida A&M University, Southern University in Louisiana, and Tuskegee University.
This partnership was established at Alabama A&M in 1993 to create students with employment opportunities with the agency. The programs from the Alabama–Forest Service alliance is credited with training two-thirds of Black foresters in the agency, according to Stephanie Love, the USDA Forest Service’s national diversity student programs manager, Alabama A&M alum, and a member of the first FireDawgs squad.
As the effects of global climate change continue to impact the environment and increase wildfire season in the U.S., recruitment has heightened. This is especially true among minorities, who are underrepresented in firefighting and forestry.
“These four HBCUs have some of the top agricultural programs at HBCUs in the nation,” Love said. “So, it just makes sense to align our efforts and move together in the same direction. We’re trying to create a pipeline of students who are pursuing this natural resources education and forestry and fire.”
Students have shared their sentiments about having the opportunity to meet and interact with an HBCU alumnus and seeing a team of workers that look like them.
Bradley Massey, junior president of the forestry club at Alabama A&M, discussed how his school piqued his interest in the firefighting and forestry industry. “I feel like it has helped me a lot in my career now,” he said.
One of the challenges associated with diversifying the firefighting and forestry industry is retention. Love said that to increase the number of students who remain in this line of work, the Forest Service and HBCUs have established mentorships, scholarships, and internships.
Source: Black Enterprise