Excel as a High-Performing Agency

February is Black History Month

Photo: head shot of woman in Forest Service uniform. Behind her are the American and Forest Service flags.
Leslie Weldon, Senior Executive for Work Environment & Performance Office

Returning to work has moved many of us to spend quality time investing in our relationships with colleagues, contractors and customers. It is both exciting and challenging to resume, recover and reconnect. Our Chief reflected on how much our value of interdependence resonated with her during the furlough; she deeply missed us as a fully functioning agency. Indeed, as we have returned to work, we continue to reflect on who we are, our values as USDA Forest Service employees and the Agency Code and Commitments. Another core value is respecting the diversity of all people and communities we engage; and the cultures, perspectives, ideas and experiences we embody and bring to the table.

This month we take time to celebrate Black History month. It’s a time to reflect and celebrate the remarkable achievements of African Americans and their contributions to our great nation and agency. It’s also a time to reflect on the trials and tribulations that African Americans suffered and continue to face today. As an agency we are committed to creating a work environment where everyone is valued, respected and feels a sense of belonging. That goal can only be achieved if we are inclusive and welcoming of all cultures, take the time to connect to learn and appreciate each other’s unique histories and traditions. As we build community and learn more about each other’s experiences, values and aspirations we can stand up, be allies and break down inequities.

As an agency, we are challenged to attract and retain African American employees. Currently, our permanent workforce is only 3.9 percent African American compared to 12.1 percent in the civilian labor force. In order to have a workforce representative of the people we serve, and make certain diverse candidates want to join our great agency, we need to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcomed, valued and respected for who they are. Below are just a few efforts we’re taking to do just that:

USDA/1890 National Scholars Program

A partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture and 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Universities awards students scholarships to attend one of the 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Universities and study agriculture, food, natural resource sciences or other related disciplines. The Forest service has been a large supporter of 1890 Scholars. Region, stations and areas will have an opportunity to host 1890 scholars during fiscal year 2019. Additional details will be shared on the Outreach and Diversity SharePoint site (internal), Student Programs (internal) page in the spring.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund

The Forest Service enjoys a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the black college community. Each summer, the agency hosts 8–10 student interns for 10-week internships. TMCF interns are high-caliber students that represent 47 publicly-supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities studying natural resources-related disciplines. Their salary is covered through an interagency agreement administered by the Outreach and Diversity branch. Units interested in hosting an intern complete an online application, Summer Student Proposal, that can be found on the Outreach and Diversity SharePoint site, Student Programs (internal) page.

Three Way Partnership Connects Youth to Natural Resources, Management, Higher Education, and Industry

The Forest Service Office of Civil Rights Northeast Service Center, University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point College of Natural Resources and Calumet in My Backyard collaborated to expose African American and Latino American high school students to the field of natural resources. This has been an extremely successful partnership for three years with the purpose of creating an opportunity for students to learn about the field by linking academia to industry. CIMBY is a program in Chicago and northeast Indiana. CIMBY’s focus is to engage high school students and teachers in educational activities and experiences that connect classroom learning to environmental stewardship opportunities. One of the six annual events that takes place with CIMBY is the student leadership retreat. It is a collaborative effort that includes the college and the Forest Service. Forty students travel to UWSP’s campus for a three-day experience. The students tour the campus, learn about the various academic majors offered in the UWSP College of Natural Resources, become knowledgeable about internships and careers in natural resources, and engage in field demonstrations with Forest Service scientists.


Resource Assistant Program Partnerships

The Resource Assistants Program is a rigorous, immersive, paid internship for individuals interested in Forest Service careers. Resource assistants work under the supervision of Forest Service staff to complete mission-critical work that demonstrates leadership, critical thinking and strategic communication. Through direct training, experience and exposure, resource assistants gain the tools to launch their natural and cultural resource careers. 


  • Contribute to valuable work projects to sustain forests and grasslands
  • Gain practical on-the-job experience with work-related training opportunities
  • Earn a competitive weekly stipend and benefits
  • Make connections to the Forest Service network of staff, partners, and stakeholders 
  • Get the opportunity to earn a two-year hiring authority to apply for qualifying permanent Forest Service positions upon successful completion of the program

Resource assistants are recruited by our valuable partner organizations. Visit the Forest Service website for information on the resource assistant program partners and how to get involved. 

These efforts represent our continuing commitment to diversity. In honor of Black History Month, the National Special Emphasis Program invites interested employees to read Becoming Michelle Obama, an autobiographical memoir of former United States First Lady Michelle Obama. Join Dani Ramirez-Montoya, National Federal Women’s Program Manager, in March during Women’s History Month for a thoughtful nonpartisan virtual discussion about various topics and themes from the memoir. This will be an opportunity to think deeply about her story, your story and, overall, to share thoughts on how we can apply lessons from the book to the workplace in order to connect different communities and create a workplace of inclusion. Participants will be exposed to ways of thinking that may not be their own.

Visit the Outreach and Diversity SharePoint (internal) to learn more about SEP events and resources.

All are encouraged to participate in or host events at regions, stations, areas or in their communities. The intent is to enhance awareness and celebrate the unique contributions of the African American community. Please ensure any hosted events are fully accessible to all employees.

Thank you to each and every employee who has created and continues to create an inclusive work environment. Inclusion means accepting and valuing people for who they are, and not expecting them to conform to our culture, our style or our preconceived notions of how people, or more specifically, how Forest Service employees, should act. Inclusion is also about really listening to different ideas, perspectives and approaches, valuing them, respecting them and benefiting from them. It’s about being open to change and achieving a new way of thinking. We all share in the awesome responsibility of creating a sense of belonging for our employees and a respectful environment for the public we serve. Together, we are fully committed to creating a diverse and inclusive agency where more African Americans will be encouraged to join us on our mission.