MSU working to close opportunity gap in state's natural resource sector

By: Vanessa Beeson

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Posted: 6/21/2023

MSU working to close opportunity gap in state's natural resource sector Photo By: Dominique Belcher

Mississippi State University’s College of Forest Resources (CFR) is launching a new diversity initiative aimed at breaking down barriers for women and minorities to pursue careers in natural resources. Despite the significant economic impact of the forestry industry and related fields in Mississippi, these groups are significantly underrepresented in the sector.

“There are tremendous career opportunities in natural resource management fields. Our forestry students report 100% job placement with starting salaries averaging $42,500 and ranging as high as $75,000,” said CFR Dean Wes Burger. “This initiative seeks to ensure those opportunities are available to all.”

Two new full-time staff positions have been created as part of the initiative to improve diversity across CFR. T.J. Walker, former district dean of student services for Northwest Mississippi Community College, is CFR’s new director of diversity programs and student development. Meanwhile, Morgan Alexander, a former MSU admissions counselor and current CFR master’s student, is the new student diversity coordinator.

These roles provide a unique opportunity to address diversity in a “holistic and meaningful way,” according to Burger. The aim is for the college’s student body to reflect the demographics of Mississippi high school graduating seniors by 2030.

The initiative is supported by generous donations from The Molpus Foundation and the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF). WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale praised CFR’s diversity plan for aligning with the foundation’s mission to increase equity in education throughout the state.

McHale noted the CFR’s efforts will contribute to the Mississippi Education Achievement Council’s Ascent to 55% goal, which aims to increase the Mississippi workforce’s postsecondary attainment to 55% by 2030 and 60% by 2035. He highlighted the significance of the CFR diversity initiative for meeting social and labor needs.

For more on MSU’s College of Forest Resources, visit

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