Born in Wenatchee, Washington, the daughter of two retired US Forest Service employees, Aly McAlexander ’12 later grew up in Christmas Valley, Oregon, graduating high school in a class of 13 students. Her journey to SOU began her freshman year in high school with her English classes’ annual trips to Ashland to see performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “I knew growing up in a small rural area, I didn’t want to go to a huge school where I could potentially become a number. So, after eating lunch on campus one year during one of our visits to Ashland, I thought SOU would be a good fit for me,” she said.
Aly majored in environmental studies and enjoyed her time in the field in the south Cascades and Siskiyous. Dr. Pat Acklin was one of her favorite professors because of her easy-going demeanor and accessibility to students. Dr. Charles Weldon was another favorite in courses about water resources, geology and biology. “It was really easy and took very little time for us to reach some pretty cool landscapes in our studies and my professors were great about getting us away from books and out into classrooms in natural settings,” she said. To help pay for her education, she worked every summer as a wildland fire fighter for the Okanogan-Wenatchee Nation Forest in north central Washington, a field that would pay dividends later in her career.
Aly’s senior capstone project was an interesting one. Her and a fellow senior surveyed every single tree in the city of Talent. They took measurements for size and height and plotted GPS coordinates for every tree. It was quite the undertaking but the data helped Talent keep its Tree City USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation.
After graduation June of 2012 with her bachelor of science in environmental studies, Aly continued her last summer as a wildland fire fighter then moved to Darby, Montana, where she worked for the Bitterroot National Forest as a timber technician, helping to evaluate timber stands for improvement and timber sales. After that temporary job, she moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and worked on a timber crew for the San Juan National Forest.
After being out in the field for a few years, Aly had a yearning to advance her education and entered graduate school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. There, she served as a teaching assistant and earned her master’s degree in botany in 2018 with a focus on forest health, forest insects and disease, forest genetics and computer software. Right after her graduation, she took a part time job as a lab technician in Colorado Springs then worked as the arborist for the City of Manitou, Colorado, for one year.
Aly became the only Forest Health Specialist for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management in March, right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. She travels throughout the state, but spends about two full months in Flagstaff in northern Arizona where most of the state’s conifer forest lands exist, but resides and works in Phoenix, where she got to experience 54 days of 100+ degree heat this past summer. “I loved my experience at SOU. It was a tight little community where we all got to know each other and helped each other. I loved fall football games and volleyball matches and would not trade my collegiate experience for anything,” she said.
Learn more: Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management