Exploring Idaho National Forest with Cinzia Ballantyne '16
What was your major at Simmons?
I majored in biology and minored in math.
What's your current job title?
I'm a Forestry Technician at a small company called Nature's Capital — located in Boise, Idaho.
Have you traveled for your work?
For this job, we work in the Boise National Forest, but also do work up in the Idaho panhandle, only 30 miles from the border of Canada! As far as favorite places go, the entire state of Montana holds a very special place in my heart. Lucky for me, it’s right next door to Idaho!
What's it like living in Idaho?
Boise is much smaller than Boston, but it's fantastically different! It's a really outdoorsy culture, so lots of people bike and there's so many outdoor recreation opportunities either directly in the city or literally ten minutes away. And people here actually drive well, which is a bonus!
What's a typical day like at your job?
We start with a morning meeting, deciding which plots we are going to survey and then drive about an hour into the mountains. We then hike (off trail) to the GPS coordinates. When we get there, we have to quantify the trees and vegetation found at each stand — as well as if any pest damage has occurred. We do that about 5 more times, and then our day is done! Sounds simple, but it's physically pretty difficult!
What was the job application process like?
Very simple. I sent a cover letter and resume and had a phone interview with the owner of the company. In field work, it's very important that you're able to work well with a team, so even though the interview was over the phone, I really wanted to make sure I communicated my personality well!
Do you have a favorite tree?
Probably my favorite tree is Larch (Larix occidentalis), which is a deciduous conifer, meaning it sheds its needles each year! It forms its needles in a beautifully feathery fashion and turns a gorgeous yellow in the fall. My favorite tree at my job would be Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa) because they're really easy to bore into when we're measuring the age of the tree! They can also grow really old and finding a 4.5 feet diameter tree in the forest is always a breathtaking moment.
What's your favorite part of your job?
My coworkers like to make fun of me for it, but I love categorizing the understory (non-tree) vegetation that is found at each plot. The satisfaction of knowing each plant in a forest makes me feel like a real mountain woman. That's besides all the other cool parts of my job, such as the fantastic views and getting to see bears (okay, that's less cool).
Tell us about the poster you worked on at Simmons.
My advisor at Simmons, Dr. Aguilera, does research with invasive species. This project examined decomposition rates of an invasive and native maple species' leaf litter and how that affected the invertebrate community populations that lived in a stream and on land.
We found that invertebrate abundance differed significantly depending on if leaf litter was native or invasive. If you really wanted to extrapolate, it's another argument for getting rid of invasive species, but really it's just a jumping off point for more research!
It was a really fun project because the actual experiment was conducted in the Arnold Arboretum, so I got to spend weekends outside! Field work is pretty great that way: you have the fun, getting-vaguely-muddy-while-clambering-through-shrubbery aspect as well as the warm, slightly more clean aspect of counting worms. This either sounds like paradise or a nightmare, depending on what kind of person you are.
What was your favorite class you took at Simmons? Why?
I really enjoyed Edie Bresler's photography class: Art of the Open Road. It was a great class to finish off my last season in Boston because I got to spend some quality time photographing the city I knew I would be leaving soon.
I’ve also loved all the biology classes I’ve taken with Dr. Owen, Dr. Lopilato, and Dr. Aguilera. It’s so great to learn from women who are so unapologetic about their love of science. They have the drive and passion about their work that I hope I can achieve with my career.
What's your Simmons Moment?
My Simmons moment happened when the Biology Liaison went to a conference in Colorado. We attended a workshop discussion about diversity in restoration practices. Our vice-president and I were well-equipped to talk about our own experiences as women in science and bring to the table everything we’ve learned from Simmons’ ongoing conversations about racial inclusion.
Simmons has really helped me find my voice and confidence and that moment at the conference helped me realize that.