Competitive spirit helps chop down barriers
by Courtney Maxwell
Imagine a forester. There’s probably a lot of flannel, a big bushy beard, an athletic build, and you’re probably picturing a man.
Kellee Edington doesn’t do flannel or beards, but she is an athlete, is tougher than hardwood, and stands out among her peers — even though she’s only 5 feet, 2 inches tall. Edington doesn’t see herself chopping down gender barriers in the forestry industry, but her accomplishments beg to differ.
“I want to prove that women can do the same types of jobs that men do in the field,” said Edington, a senior forestry major from Terre Haute, Indiana. “Because of that, I hold myself to a higher standard to show that I can, and should, be here.”
Edington proves herself by participating, and excelling, in tree-climbing competitions. Yes, it’s a real competition in which the fastest person to climb a tree, wins. Some contests offer prize money, others offer trophies, and all offer bragging rights to fellow arborists.
Edington went to her first tree climbing competition because she was offered extra credit in a class for volunteering at the Indiana Arborist Tree Climbing Competition (IATCC) in Indianapolis. The IATCC had no women competing that year. Noticing her love for the forestry industry and her inability to turn down a challenge, the IATCC coordinators asked Edington to participate in the next year’s competition.
“After some thought, I decided that it would be a lot of fun and a great learning experience,” Edington said. “So, when the next year came around . . . I just did it.”
She had a great time, met a lot of different people, and did well; she placed third. But Edington isn’t content with just changing the face of competition. She is very conscious of the importance of establishing women in the forestry industry. Her goal isn’t to be a champion tree climber or even one of the few women CEOs in the industry. Instead, she wants to empower women.
“I’ve been encouraging women who are in my classes to go to the climbing competitions,” she said. “And if they need help finding an internship, I’ll try my hardest to help them make professional connections. In the end, I just want to help make others successful, so they can get the same feeling I get to experience.”
Edington is taking advantage of every opportunity to reach her goals. That includes being involved in several aspects of the Purdue Forestry program. She’s a member of the Society of American Foresters, she’s a research project assistant, she has had two internships, and she’s been a teaching assistant.
She grew up with her brother, male cousins, and dad, which she said got her used to fast-paced, male-dominated environments. She took up hunting when she turned 12 years old, and credits those experiences with increasing her love for the outdoors. Growing up, Edington said she didn’t see hunting and other activities as boy or girl activities. They were just things her family did together.
For Edington, breaking down gender barriers comes naturally, even when she hasn’t noticed that she’s done it. But when she thinks about it, she sees all she has accomplished.
“I’m really proud to be at the forefront of this change in the industry,” she said. “Trying to empower other women to show them that they can do anything in the forestry business is an indescribable feeling.”