Positions such as forestry financial analyst, geographical information specialist, environmental manager, wood products mill manager and forest economist may be unfamiliar to female, minority or first-generation college students when considering a college major.
Mississippi State University's College of Forest Resources aims to change that with help from Dick Molpus, former secretary of state and longtime advocate for an educated workforce as the key to Mississippi's economic growth.
Molpus has pledged $1 million to the college to be a leader of these sweeping changes across Mississippi's natural resource industries. This fund aims to increase the recruitment, retention and advancement of students, faculty and staff from historically underrepresented populations including minorities, women and first-generation college students.
CFR Dean Wes Burger said, "The effort's principal goal is to have the demographics of CFR undergraduates reflect the demographics of Mississippi's graduating high school seniors by 2030. All Mississippi State students deserve the opportunity to advance and excel and have the skills needed in this rapidly changing sector."
Steve Bullard, CFR associate dean, said the effort gives the college the opportunity to stand apart as a leader in diversity and inclusion.
"This is a chance for Mississippi State to shine as a champion of diversity and inclusion and be a part of creating a new set of leaders in forestry and forest products," Bullard said.
Molpus said the initiative will help exponentially increase exposure and access to promising natural resource careers for more Mississippians from underrepresented groups.
"For some, the view of jobs in natural resources, particularly forestry, is seen as antiquated," Molpus said. "These aren't the low-paying or low-tech jobs that were available in the 1950s. A career in natural resources is a rewarding career with living wages and advanced technology. We want to expand these great opportunities to a diversity of individuals who will further conserve and protect our natural resources."
Molpus has long supported the work of MSU's College of Forest Resources. A decade ago, he established forestry scholarships for students from underrepresented populations.
The Molpus family has been in the timber business since 1905. In 1996, Dick Molpus created a new business called Molpus Woodlands Group, which acquires and manages timberland as an investment for pension funds, insurance companies and foundation endowments. Today that organization manages approximately $2.6 billion in timberland assets across the United States.
Molpus has been active in the national arena since founding Molpus Woodlands Group. He was appointed by then President George W. Bush to be the founding chairman of the $300 million U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. In 2016, Molpus was elected as chairman of the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO). That organization represents private forest landowners, which as a group own and manage 70% of the nation's timberlands.
"This is a bold initiative and I believe others in the forest industry will join with Mississippi State University in supporting this transformative endeavor," Molpus said.