In today’s technology-driven graduate studies programs, Forestry and Ecology Services is an unusual academic pathway for African American females. However, Alicia Arrington-Thomas dares to tread where few of her kind exist.
This “Sasha Fierce” pioneer is making her mark in an unconventional field of study, all while managing her dyslexia and roles as mother of three and wife. Arrington-Thomas feared her dyslexia and parental/marital duties and obligations would be a monumental consideration for her to accomplish her academic goals. After an exhaustive search for the right institution to pursue her ambitious endeavor, Virginia Tech’s Master of Natural Resources (MNR) program proved to be the perfect fit. It is flexible and provided her with the right resources and instructors to start and finish with her graduate degree.
With a background in Urban Forestry and Agriculture, Arrington-Thomas developed an interest in the connectivity between climate change and management of natural resources. This helped determine her role as an environmentalist with an emphasis on fire management. This began when she was a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park and as a program manager with the U.S. Forest Service in Rolling Fork, Mississippi.
Earlier this year, Arrington-Thomas joined others in participating in the “Ecological Society of America on Capitol Hill” event as an advocate for continued funding for scientific research. Arrington-Thomas met with congressional policy makers during her Washington, D.C. visit.
Arrington-Thomas explains: “I was interested in my role as a human being in the cohabitation with nature, and in what I can do as an individual and how I can pass this knowledge on to my children. Forest health also means economic health in Mississippi where oak and pine trees are used for timber products, a top industry for the state. We must grow with the land and proper management is key for the sustainability and health of all that rely on it. Using prescribed burning to manage the forest floor creates a host of benefits – it regenerates grasses, opens space for native trees to grow, reduces large wildfires fueled by climate change, and allows turkeys, migratory birds, and other wildlife access to food sources that are now better exposed.”
Arrington-Thomas is a first-generation college student. She holds B.S. degrees from Tuskegee University in Plant and Soil Science and Environmental Science. She has a M.S. degree from Southern University, M.S. degrees from Virginia Tech in Natural Resources and in Agricultural and Life Sciences, and a Graduate Certificate in Global Sustainability from Virginia Tech.
Arrington-Thomas currently is a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Mississippi where she is studying Ecology under the guidance of Dr. Steve J. Brewer. She is also a Southeastern Conference Provost Emerging Scholar at the university and a mentor with the Increasing Minority Access to Graduate Education (IMAGE) program under the direction of Jaqueline Vinson.
Her research interests include understanding the reversal of mesophication using prescribed fire to restore ecosystems after a lack of the historical use of fire. She is also interested in how federal laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act pertain to essential aspects of the environment and communities during restoration.
Arrington-Thomas aims to put her learning and knowledge to work to assist communities who need to engage with or are unaware of conversations about environmental justice, clean air, and clean water in their communities and ecosystems. She also has an interest in environmental law.
Arrington-Thomas is the mother of three daughters and is married to Jonathan Thomas of Knowing Mathematics, LLC. She currently resides in the Jackson metropolitan area.