Kim Coder, a professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, helps students—as well people across the state and around the world—better understand and appreciate trees in biological, ecological and cultural contexts.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned an associate’s degree in environmental science from the Des Moines Area Community College’s Boone Campus in Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in forestry, a master’s degree in tree biology and a Ph.D. in forest ecology from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in the summer of 1985 (about 32 years ago) right out of graduate school. I came here because a faculty position was available that well-matched my experience and training. UGA, as a land- and sea-grant university, had a great tradition of public service, outreach and extension.
What are your favorite courses and why?
Everything I do concerns trees—anatomy, morphology, biomechanics, dendrology, physiology and stress ecology. I enjoy preparing students to appreciate and understand trees in biological, ecological and social/cultural contexts. Trees have value, people want trees, and people’s perceptions of trees and forests require management education to ensure sustainability, especially in urban and suburban settings.
FORS3010, “Dendrology,” is a story about how trees work, form and grow, as well as their history and identification across North America. FORS5010/7010, “Urban Tree Management,” is a platform designed to assist students moving into the professions of tree health care provider and urban forester, with a framework of tree biology, urban soils and arboriculture.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
The highlights include opportunities for international work and recognition. For both tree-literate professionals and tree-interested publics, science-based information regarding how trees biologically, ecologically and structurally function and survive are in great educational demand across the globe.
UGA has allowed me opportunities as a faculty member to work with people from many nations and international organizations. I am the first person to ever win the top four world awards of my profession for educational materials development, invited technical lectures and outreach publications. I have served the members of two international organizations as their president—the International Society of Arboriculture as well as the Arboriculture Education and Research Academy. I have been granted the highest national award for my educational services by the Arbor Day Foundation. I have been appointed to the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council, which advises the U.S. secretary of agriculture, as representative of the nation’s educational institutions for urban forestry. I have served Georgia by helping found and then serve as president of the Georgia Urban Forest Council.
I have carried the name of UGA and the Warnell School into many parts of the world, all but three states in the nation, and to every county in Georgia, helping people understand trees and forests.
How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
Everyone has a tree that is important to them through location, past history, current assets, future values, cultural context or changing risk environment. I use an amalgam of science, intellectual discipline, empathy and experience to help formulate solutions to tree and natural resource problems. I attempt to determine tree and site facts, formulate truths and share this information in simple awareness building and educational terms. I try to change how people and organizations think about their interactions with trees for the betterment of both the people, sites and trees.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I am passionate about trees—from big structural mechanical issues to small biological peculiarities—across storms, drought and pests, I try to instill in my students, both within resident instruction and online/non-resident teaching, the wonder of trees and their interactions with human society, culture and history. The experience I gain from the field fuels my classrooms and workshops across the nation, while the student questions propel me to always look farther and deeper to ensure I understand the questions and the answers.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
Students should feel welcome in the world of trees through me. Students should grow to appreciate how and why trees exist, and develop understandings surrounding the wonder of trees and forests, from a single tree along a back alley to a community forest. An informed and educated citizen must understand their surrounding natural resources.
Describe your ideal student.
A student must have a sense of imagination, coupled with an unbiased curiosity about the world, all within a sphere of personal discipline and societal tolerance. A student’s role is to develop reasoning of how things work over time, and grow to intellectually discern between negative and positive events and choices. A student should grow to avoid and remedy ignorance and arrogance.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
The Warnell pond area in front of the School is a wonderful oasis of white noise and comfort. The Warnell School’s Thompson Mills State Arboretum near Braselton, Georgia, is not on campus, but is a great tree-centric cathedral.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I have traveled to many places around the world, but …. I enjoy visiting and getting to more carefully know Georgia’s state parks, coastline and mountains. Georgia has so many natural features that most people drive by, fly over or do not seem to recognize. An education is appreciating Georgia in depth.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
Growing into a more disciplined and thoughtful human while at UGA through interactions with the people of the state, nation and world.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
At times of great angst and dire circumstances in human events, trained counselors arise to help visualize, mitigate and correct problems. This is the ultimate role of the academy—to educate and train counselors who craft truth regardless of political correctness and societal blindness.