Celebrating Black History Month 2023

Black History Month serves as a time to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of Black students, staff, and faculty within our UBC Forestry community. While we should celebrate these achievements everyday, we hope to offer this time as an opportunity for focused and intentional reflection. This year, we are grateful to share with you four stories of some of our amazing Forestry students and alumni.

Dr. Washington Gapare (PhD’03)

Dr. Washington Gapare

“Born in Zimbabwe, I attended UBC from 2000 to 2003 in Aitken Lab and obtained a PhD in Forest Genetics.  My PhD work focused on genetic diversity and population structure on widespread species and the implications for gene conservation.  I used Sitka spruce as the model organism.

I still have fond memories of my lab “family” for their friendship and support.  The lab “family” included both Aitken Lab and Ritland Lab students.  As students, we created a home far away from home and were always there for each other.  On completion of my PhD studies and moving Australia in 2004, I soon realised that “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”  This quote is attributed to Former President of South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela.

The doctoral studies at UBC provided me an opportunity to get the depth and breadth in Populations Genetics.  I then coupled that knowledge with my Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Management gained at Aberdeen University, Scotland, Master of Science degree at North Carolina State University, USA to gain employment with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), in Australia.  I have always considered myself a global citizen.

I worked for CSIRO for 17 years.  Major areas of research included integrating modern quantitative genetics and population genetics to applied breeding programs for optimizing genetic gain, diversity, and sustainability.  These applications focused on trees, cotton, wheat, and salmon fish. 

I currently work for Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) (https://grdc.com.au/) as a Research Data Manager.  This is a new post that was created in 2021 and I have spent the past two years building up systems, mechanisms, and guidelines for researchers to manage RD&E data effectively.  GRDC’s purpose is to invest in Research, Development and Extension (RD&E) to create enduring profitability for Australian grain growers.  I ensure that data from GRDC projects are FAIR (i.e., Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable).  Such efforts accelerate research outcomes, avoid duplication of efforts to generate data, enable new insights and greater value to be derived from the data.”

Dr. Alesia Ofori (MSFM’16)

Dr. Alesia Ofori

“Dr. Alesia Ofori is a Research Fellow in Water and Sanitation Governance at the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. Her research is broadly in the politics and anthropology of resource governance and development in sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on the extractive industry, water, sanitation, and agriculture.

She holds a PhD in International Development from the University of Leeds. She completed a Master of Sustainable Forest Management (MSFM) in 2016 and is also an alumnus of the UBC MasterCard Foundation Scholar Program. Celebrating BHM, her word to Black students is to own their space and POWER. “Let no one invalidate your thoughts, aspirations, and dreams. Be in charge of your might!”

Dr. Stella Acquah (PhD’22)

“I am Stella Britwum Acquah, and a Ghanaian. I obtained a Ph.D. in Forestry in 2022 at the University of British Columbia (UBC) with support from the International Doctoral Fellowship Award from the University. In 2020 I was privileged to receive the Paul Heller Memorial Fellowship in Forestry. After graduation, I returned to Ghana to work with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (CSIR-FORIG) as Senior Research Scientist. My research team is currently working on assessing deforestation and forest degradation in Community Resource Management Areas (CREMAs) in the Northern Savannah Zone of Ghana. The research aims at enhancing forest carbon stocks by restoring forest cover through local community intervention. The African community at UBC added flavour to the beautiful life on the Vancouver campus. We were the epitome of diversity, with different hopes, cultures, dreams, aspirations and yearnings. This made life rather interesting and uncomplicated, especially for those who wanted to see the world from different perspectives. I highly recommend UBC to African students seeking a well-balanced academic environment.”

Solène François (BUF’25)

Solène François

“My name is Solène François, and I’m in my second year of the Urban Forestry program in the Faculty of Forestry. I was born in the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, located in the Caribbean. I moved to Canada when I was 14 years old. After moving to Canada, I became interested in sustainability, urban forest biodiversity, and climate change adaptation strategies, especially in urban settings. While global temperatures rise and more people migrate into urban areas, sustainable city planning and green infrastructure/ spaces must be implemented to create climate-resilient cities. The program of Urban Forestry is a relatively new field of study. It has challenges with recognition in the work world and acceptance of its importance in the wider society. As a Black woman, these challenges can be even more pronounced. Pursuing a degree in the Faculty of Forestry can be a lonely journey for a black student like myself when I am the only black student in most classes. Students of other ethnic groups have a community and form bonds which support them throughout their degree process. This isolation makes the university experience ten times more challenging, as there are few black role models in this field to look up to. Despite these challenges, I recognize that as one of the few black people in Forestry, I have a responsibility to help pave the path for other black students to follow. I hope that through my efforts, there will be a greater representation of the African Diaspora in the Faculty of Forestry. Black History Month celebrates the struggles and achievements of the black people who came before. As the pioneering member of the Black in Forestry Initiative, we are creating black history here at UBC.”

Forestry Diversity Crew logo

This initiative was led by Samuel Adeyanju, a Forestry PhD student, in collaboration with the UBC Forestry Diversity Crew. Please reach out to us at samuel.adeyanju@ubc.ca or forestry.diversity@ubc.ca to connect or learn more.

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