Dr. Cathy Keeler: From Green to Grateful

In Spring 2022, Dr. Cathy Keeler was beginning to wrap up her Ph.D. in Integrative Public Policy and Development at Tuskegee University and looking for job opportunities. While browsing the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) website, she found Project Learning Tree (an initiative of SFI) and the Green Mentor program.

As a non-traditional full-time student, wife, mother, and woman of color, Cathy was looking for guidance and support to help her find her footing in the forest and conservation sector. She signed up and was matched with Bettina Ring, former Chief Sustainability and Diversity Officer at SFI.

Having been a mentee in the past and seeing how her and Dr. Keeler’s interests aligned, Ring was eager to work with such a promising talent.

With the many directions Dr. Keeler’s career could take, Ring was, and is still, present in her journey to help her find the clarity she needs to determine her own direction. “I am very impressed with Dr. Keeler, with her capabilities, and the skill set she has. If you look at her resume, it jumps out at you immediately,” Ring said.

Mentors and mentees in the PLT Green Mentor program met in person at the 2022 SFI/PLT Conference in June 2022. Attending the conference offered Dr. Keeler a unique opportunity to see herself in a field that is not historically diverse.

“There was a DEI session with a panel of minority women talking about their experiences in forestry,” she said. “That particular session was, to me, inspiring. As an African American woman, and with the lack of diversity in forestry, I think it is important that I play some type of role in the forestry and conservation sector to make sure that, my son for example, sees himself in the field if he ever chooses to go in this direction.”

The experience helped her to clarify the next steps she plans to take in her professional career, something she and Ring have been working on together.

“I want to further my research on heir property and forest management among African Americans, to highlight the disadvantages placed specifically on African American landowners. It is my duty to uplift the Black community because my ancestors paid the ultimate sacrifice for me to have the privileges I have and enjoy daily. I am first generation and the first in my family across all generations to earn a Ph.D., so it is only right for me to make a way forward for future generations. That session really inspired me,” said Dr. Keeler.

Both Ring and Dr. Keeler credit the resources provided and connections enabled by SFI and PLT as highly useful and beneficial not only for new professionals, but also for experienced professionals with years in the field. Mentor-mentee relationships are even stronger when they are meaningfully supported.

Advice to mentorship pairs

Dr. Keeler and Ring both learn from and grow with each other. They shared advice to get the most out of a mentor-mentee relationship:

  1. Be Authentic: Lasting relationships are founded on honesty. To build rapport and effectively guide (or be guided), it is important to be authentic. As Ring says, “We try to show up and be our true selves.”
  1. Be Flexible: PLT offers a structured mentorship program with a variety of resources as a foundation on which to build a mentorship relationship. But it’s not the only way to build a meaningful mentorship relationship, and sometimes you have to check in or carve out time in creative ways.
  1. Be Grateful: In the words of Dr. Keeler, “You have something to bring to the table, even as a student.” And mentees often make great future mentors—Dr. Keeler applied to be a mentor in the following PLT Green Mentor cohort to do her part and give back.

Apply for PLT Canada’s Green Mentor program

PLT Canada’s Green Mentor program is recruiting mentees and mentors until Sept. 5, 2023!

PLT Canada’s Green Mentor program connects young adults ages 18-30 with Green Jobs professionals. The mentorship program involves meeting (in person or virtually) two or three hours a month. Mentees can expand their Green Jobs knowledge, goals, and network. Mentors can inspire the next generation of leaders, recruit employees, and gain new perspectives.

Learn more about PLT Canada’s Green Mentor program.


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