Katrina Van Osch-Saxon teaches at Fleming’s School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences. She has been there since 2012 and teaches Forest Health, Tree Health Management, Greenspace Management along with other courses in the Urban Forestry Technician, Arboriculture and Forestry programs. Prior to this, she was an arborist and owned a tree care business.
When I began working as an arborist and business owner in the tree care industry, I was the only woman on the jobsite. It never really occurred to me because I always had a very supportive group of people that I worked with, including my Dad and husband. When I began working at Fleming College, I was lucky enough to teach in the Urban Forestry, Forestry and Arboriculture programs, where I realized that the number of women in the programs reflected what is typically seen in industry. This underrepresentation is important, but what is more important to me, is that there are women out there of all ages, that don’t know they can have a career working with trees! Working in this industry is so much fun and I think that is why we all love our jobs. We are connected to nature, get to work outside doing what we love, AND we get paid for it!
One of the biggest challenges I think people have, is that they don’t know what options are available to them as far as careers go and I take every opportunity to talk to students about “What they want to be when they grow up”. It took me a long time to realize that my role as a teacher was more than delivering content. The best part of my job is connecting with students, helping to inspire and motivate them to pursue a career that they will find rewarding.
In 2016, we organised the first “Women in Trees” event and invited people from the community as well as industry to raise awareness about the diversity of careers available to them that involved working with trees. There is a misconception, that forestry means working in the middle of nowhere in a tent, with no showers and bears. This is only one awesome option out there and so it is important to me to connect with people to let them know that there are so many other ways to make a career in these industries. The first WIT event was a catalyst that exponentially expanded my network of amazing women working in tree-related industries. My role allows me to bridge all of the different disciplines, connecting forestry, urban forestry and arboriculture and helps me to expose new students to these networks so they are able to gain support and mentorship earlier in their careers.
It is difficult to “measure” success of events like these, but when you talk to a student currently enrolled in one of the programs and you hear that they are there because of a WIT event they attended, we know we have done our job! It is so exciting to be a part of such an awesome industry and although there are challenges, I believe that fostering a positive attitude and building self-esteem goes a long way to being successful. If women feel they have a strong support system, role models they can look to for advice, and positive experiences as they complete their training and education, I think they are more likely to be successful in their career(s). I am thankful that I have been given this amazing opportunity to have such an impactful role in the lives of so many and hope that the trend continues!