Shane McQuillan

'A degree in Forestry will set you up for life...'

  • Shane McQuillan

Bachelor of Forestry Science with Honours

City Forester, Des Moines, Iowa, USA


What led you into a Forestry degree?

I worked for ten years in plantation forestry, and while I enjoyed the physical work, I followed advice from some peers and decided to go back and get a degree (class of 2013, yeah!). I knew I had more to offer, and a degree from University of Canterbury was key in realising that plan. 

This was one of the hardest decisions of my life, and ultimately one of the best decisions I have made, I am confident I can find employment anywhere in the world from my BForSc from UC. 

How did you find it going back to studying after so many years?

I was nervous about going back to university, I had a good job with lots of time off and wasn’t sure if I was making the right move. Once I started studying, the confidence of my fellow students encouraged me, and when companies started interviewing in our final year I knew this is a bulletproof degree with clout around the globe! 

So it was the Forestry community at UC that kept you going?

Something to do with the mindset and diversity that forestry attracts, it really is a large family. The camaraderie, even being “slightly” older as an adult student, I always felt welcome and involved with my fellow students. The professors are world class and very approachable (I still have relationships today with many).  

And you also got awarded a joint scholarship between Scion (a Crown Research Institute) and UC's School of Forestry?

That was a very worthwhile experience. If I started my degree again, one thing I would change is “find out what you can apply for!!”. There are so many scholarships out there and if you put in the time and effort you will save a lot of money.

I also managed to get an internship in Tasmania, Australia, through asking a UC professor for any contacts, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the “normal” stuff. 

After graduating you moved to the USA and became a Utility Forester in Chicago, and now you’re a City Forester in Iowa. What does that involve? 

Managing 50,000 street and park trees which comprise the urban forest of Des Moines. Working with 200,000 residents, elected officials, non-profits (think Greenpeace for trees) to help grow and maintain the urban forest of Des Moines. This is a growing city, so there is a lot of new development, which means working with engineers to make sure trees are protected during and after construction.

That sounds like a big job! What’s the best part for you?

Meeting and working with people; trees are why I’m in this job, however, people are what make it so interesting. There is no section of society that trees do not touch in some way, so you get to meet and work with many different people from many different walks of life.

How has your degree helped you in your career?

There is not a day goes by where I don’t use some element of my degree. Whether it is Excel, Word, Powerpoint, ArcGIS, public speaking, my studies touched all areas. I have found the level of study is very high from Canterbury, and I am above the curve in all areas I operate in. I feel gracious to be where I am today, and a large part of what got me here is my degree.

Why do you think more people should consider going into Forestry?

Forestry is about trees and people, and that really can mean anything! So you might be all about trees, but Forestry is so much more than that. Finance, building roads, stakeholder engagement, and council approved budgets; Forestry has it all and I am confident when I say a degree in Forestry will set you up for life. 

I’m thankful to all the people who encouraged me to study, hence, I encourage YOU to do the same!

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