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Notable Alumni

Careers & Alumni

Great forestry careers start at SFA

SFA’s forestry majors go on to do great things. Our graduates work for federal and state agencies, the U.S. military and private corporations. They are college professors and researchers. They are Nobel Prize-winning climate scientists and award-winning educators.

Most importantly, though, all of our graduates are passionate about what they do, and they are changing the world for the better, every day.

Wondering what you can do with a forestry degree from SFA? Check out some of the amazing things our graduates have accomplished.

Neal Wilkins, Class of '84
BS in forestry

Dr. Neal Wilkins

As president and CEO of the East Foundation, Dr. Neal Wilkins leads the mission of one of the largest native rangeland holdings in Texas. The foundation, comprising six separate working ranches totaling more than 217,000 acres, promotes the advancement of land stewardship through ranching, science and education. The foundation's properties operate as a working beef cattle ranch while also serving as a living laboratory where scientists tackle vital questions related to wildlife management, rangeland health and ranch productivity.

Because more than half of the remaining U.S. ocelots are found on East Foundation properties, the recovery of this endangered species is a key research and conservation initiative.The East Foundation also is working with scientists at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute and partners at the Cincinnati Zoo to ultimately develop a breeding program utilizing semen obtained from male ocelots on the foundation's properties. Their plan is to establish a captive breeding program with resulting ocelots to be reintroduced to suitable habitats elsewhere in the wild.

Winter 2021 Sawdust Magazine feature story

David Smith, Class of '05
MS in resource interpretation

David Smith

David Smith is the superintendent at Joshua Tree National Park. He has spent two decades working in national parks across the western United States. He has worked as a law enforcement ranger and as an interpretive park ranger. In 2010, David was one of two people chosen to serve as a Bevinetto Congressional Fellow. Under this distinguished fellowship, he served as a congressional aid to the House Subcommittee for National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

Vickie Mates, Class of '06
MS in resource communication

Vickie Mates

SFA graduate Vickie Mates earned a Master of Science in resource communication in 2006. In her current role as chief of interpretation and partnerships at Grand Teton National Park, she connects with park visitors and helps them learn about the park’s history, ecology and scientific and cultural significance.

Dr. Virginia Burkett, Class of ‘97
PhD in forestry

Dr. Virginia Burkett

Dr. Virginia Burkett earned her doctoral degree in forestry from SFA in 1997. Ten years later, in 2007, she was among the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Nobel Peace Prize-winning fourth assessment report. Many scientists and policymakers credit this report with being the catalyst for environmental change worldwide. 

Burkett's impressive career includes serving as the United States Geological Survey's chief scientist for the climate and land use change mission area and as co-chair of the strategic science planning team responsible for developing the mission area's 10-year science strategy. She formerly served as chief of the Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana; associate regional chief biologist for the United States Geological Survey Central Region; deputy secretary, director and secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and director of the Louisiana Coastal Zone Management.

Robert (“Rob”) Hughes, Class of '96
BS in forestry

Robert (“Rob”) Hughes

As executive director of the Texas Forestry Association, Rob Hughes is at the forefront of promoting economic, social and political climates that advance forestry in Texas through education, political action and public relations. Drawing on his more than two decades in the forest industry, he serves the broad needs of the forest resources of landowners, producers and consumers and enhances and perpetuates the Texas forest resource.

Dr. Roel Lopez, Class of '93
BS in forestry

Dr. Roel Lopez

Dr. Roel Lopez earned a Bachelor of Science in forestry with a concentration in forest wildlife management from SFA. From there, he went on to attend Texas A&M University at College Station, where he earned a master's degree and a doctorate. He is currently a professor of wildlife at Texas A&M University and the director of the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources. His teaching and research interests include habitat management, population ecology and military land management.

Dr. Zhu H. Ning, Class of '92
Professor, Urban Forestry and Natural Resources Department, Southern University and A&M College

Dr. Zhu H. Ning

Dr. Zhu H. Ning is nationally recognized for her support of education, research and student professional development. During her career, she has obtained more than $20 million in competitive grants to support these efforts, which have resulted in 190 publications. She also fills diverse leadership roles in the Society of American Foresters and the International Society of Arboriculture. Ning has received the James and Ruth Smith Endowed Professor Award, Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence, Chancellor’s Award for Most Outstanding Researcher, College Faculty Excellence in Research Awards, Department Excellence through Faculty Excellence Award from the Louisiana State Board of Regents of Higher Education and awards from the Louisiana state governor.

Victor Cordova, Class of '88
BS in forestry

Victor Cordova

Victor Cordova has served three decades as urban forester for the City of Houston.  As Houston's city forester, Cordova was responsible for trees located across an area totaling 600 square miles. One of the highlights of his career was when his team and volunteers planted 20,000 trees on Will Clayton Parkway for Arbor Day in 2009. Prior to the planting, the approximately 40-acre lot was simply a grassy median that required constant mowing. They narrowed that 40 acres down to 12 and planted the rest with trees. Cordova took great care to ensure species diversity, which benefits urban wildlife and aesthetics and strengthens against forest disease and tree mortality. Currently, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department comprises 380 developed parks and more than 167 greenspaces totaling more than 39,501 acres. Cordova and his team of employees were one component of the city's larger Greenspace Management Division.

Fall 2021 Sawdust Magazine feature story

Clayton Wolf, Class of '86
Director of the Wildlife Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Clayton Wolf

Clayton Wolf earned his Bachelor of Science degree at SFA, where he majored in forestry with a concentration in forest wildlife management. After leaving SFA, he went on to attend Texas A&M University at College Station, where he earned a Master of Agriculture in wildlife science. In his role as director of the Wildlife Davison of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, he makes a difference by improving wildlife habitat and increasing public appreciation of wildlife. Outside the office, he works with stakeholders to resolve conflicts involving wildlife management.

More notable alumni

  • Justyss Esquivel, natural resource specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Class of ‘14
  • Aaron Friar, local park grant coordinator, Texas Parks and Wildlife Recreation Grants Branch, Class of ‘10
  • Jason Isabelle, resource scientist, Missouri Department of Conservation, Class of ‘10
  • Corey Mason, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, Class of ‘98
  • Sherill Hobbs, science department head and advanced placement chemistry teacher, Hemphill High School, Class of ‘86
  • John Boyette, district forester III, Texas A&M Forest Service, Class of ‘80



Forestry Building
Room 103

Mailing Address:
PO Box 6109, SFA Station
Nacogdoches, Texas 75962