The School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is building a new major all about trees.
Eric North, a professor hired initially to design a new major for students interested in trees, is building coursework that centers around urban forestry and arboriculture for the forestry major.
Arboriculture, or the cultivation of trees and shrubs, has a rich history at UNL.
The university hosted a forestry department as early as 1903, participating in the statewide push for tree planting after the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.
The forestry degree has been intermittently abolished and reinstated at UNL since then and is now pending approval as a new regional and community forestry major.
North said he found urban forestry in a roundabout way. North was working in computer science when he became interested in forestry and decided to take his interest back to school. He is now a certified arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture.
The documentation for making a major is very lengthy and difficult, so North said students cannot yet enroll as he works to build the major. He said he reaches out to many different faculty from different departments to make the degree as relevant and current to the field as possible.
North said that he’s built new courses that cover different areas in new technologies, horticulture, entomology and water science for the major. He said he’s crafting lectures, assignments, guest speakers and projects for the courses in things like arboriculture, dendrology, tree biology and green-space and urban management.
North works with the Arbor Day Foundation, the Nebraska Forest Service, the United States Forest Service and many private companies in the industry to create coursework that will benefit students and prepare them as much as possible for employment in the field. He is also working to set up opportunities for internships for the students.
North said he loves the variety of his job and working with the students. He enjoys seeing students learn more about something he is passionate about, and he said he appreciates when former students reach out to share interesting new things they learned about trees.
“It’s fun to watch a student for the first time discover new information and take to it,” he said. “It's really fun to see the energy and excitement when students are finding new information.”
North said this major is important for Nebraska to have. He said most of the population of the world is moving into cities, so it’s important to think about healthy city management.
Trees make urban environments more livable, with the capacities to filter stormwater in cities and cut down pollutants from cars and factories. He also said it is important to manage trees just like any other part of urban infrastructure, such as roads or power lines.
“No one wants to live in a concrete box of a city,” North said. “They want to see plants and gardens and trees.”