Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Sharon Parker

Office of Communication
February 2nd, 2018 at 1:30PM

A photo of Sharon Parker ready to explore a min
Sharon Parker is ready to explore Molybdenum Mine in Colorado while working on a USDA Forest Service detail. (U.S. Forest Service photo.)

Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Sharon Parker knew when she was eight years old that she would become a scientist. She achieved that goal and today is responsible for managing the information that keeps the USDA Forest Service’s Research and Development (R&D) division in compliance with federal regulations. She also is an active volunteer in her church and community and serves as a mentor to hundreds of young women.

What led you to the USDA Forest Service and when did you start working here?

After I completed my Master of Science degree in microbiology from Howard University in 1989, I was recruited to join the Northeastern Forest Experiment Station in Durham, New Hampshire. As a research microbiologist, I isolated and studied bacterial flora from soil and from samples of discolored maple and balsam fir tree rings due to wounding and wood decay.

What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job? 
In 1999 I relocated to the R&D division in the USDA Forest Service’s Washington Office. I’m now a program manager for science synthesis on the Knowledge Management and Communications staff, where I oversee the development of R&D’s annual performance and accountability report and its triennial customer satisfaction survey, and I track and post peer review agendas. I also work with the designated federal officer on the Forestry Research Advisory Council and serve as the Data Quality Officer (DQO) for the entire agency. A favorite part of my job is working across deputy areas on agency-wide projects in support of the Forest Service chief.

Who or what inspired you growing up?
I was inspired to go to college by my older cousins. My high school science teacher encouraged me to pursue a career in biological illustration because of my ability to draw microscopic specimens. During my freshman year in college, I became inspired by my microbiology lab professor to follow a research career and pursue a Ph.D.  

What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
I enjoy volunteering and serving as a leader at my church and with other community-based organizations. I have served on the board of directors of the Isabelle Robinson Hammond Music and Fine Arts Scholarship since 1999. We award scholarships to graduating high school students who will major in music or fine arts. I have also served on the board of the Family Life Center Foundation (FLCF), which works to strengthen and empower families throughout the District of Columbia, since 2008. I especially enjoy working with children through the FLCF’s Child Development Center and mentoring teen girls through its debutante program, which I have directed since 2010. I also enjoy creating scrapbooks and assembling jigsaw puzzles.

A photo of Sharon Parker with fellow volunteers registering participants
Sharon Parker with fellow volunteers registering participants for the 2015 FLCF Charity Golf Clinic. (Photo by Charles Stoutamire Photography)

What is your highest personal and professional achievement?

My highest personal achievement was realized when I traveled with my church choir to Israel in 1988 to perform a concert on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem’s Manger Square.  On our way back to the United States, we stopped in Rome and joined choirs from around the world in a musical session at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II. 

My highest professional achievements are three-fold. As a child I dreamt of attending Howard University. To gain admittance on a conditional basis and later be inducted into Beta Kappa Chi National Scientific Honor Society was a great accomplishment. I also set my sights on earning a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university. Passing my B exam at Cornell University and being selected to serve as Degree Marshal in the 131st commencement marked the culmination of another long-term goal. I was the first African American Degree Marshal and selected because I turned in an error-free dissertation. 

More recently, in January 2016, I received the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major Award for Service for my volunteer work as director of the Shiloh Debutante Rites of Passage Program. 

As a result of these and other accomplishments, I will be inducted into my high school’s (du Pont Manual) Hall of Fame in April 2018.

How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?  
I would like the public to recognize our work as tangible, important, useful, and beneficial to mankind and the environment. I’d like them to understand that our efforts are critical to conserving and sustaining the forested lands that have direct correlations to their well-being and livelihoods, and to see that our work is essential to the continued availability of food, timber, and clean water, as well as recreation, social, and cultural benefits. I want them to recognize forests as living ecosystems that require nurturing rather than just lands of trees.  

A photo of Sharon Parker with 2017 debutante Cotillion queen and court
Sharon Parker with 2017 debutante Cotillion queen and court. (Photo by Charles Stoutamire Photography.)

What are your future career goals?

My future goals include continuing my involvement with students and motivating them to succeed. I want to adapt the debutante program into a charm school and have it recognized by public schools as a means for teen girls and boys to earn community service hours while learning important personal, social, and professional skills.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
My advice is to work knowing that you may not see the immediate impact of your efforts, but to know that your work is yet critical to sustaining and preserving our lands for future generations.