Alicia Thomas Finds Her Missing Piece

By: Lindsay Key

Finding the time to complete a master’s degree was not an easy task for Alicia Thomas, who, in 2012, was working full-time and had a third child on the way.

However, the flexibility of Virginia Tech’s Online Masters of Natural Resources (MNR) program and the encouragement of its faculty members helped Thomas complete her degree in May 2016 and ultimately land a job that she loves.

In August 2016, Thomas began working for the USDA Forest Service in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, as a program manager. The Delta National Forest is a unique forest located in Sharkey County, with more than 60,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest.

In her new position, Thomas has a variety of responsibilities, including writing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents for timber sales, digging culverts, planting, constructing trails, organizing prescribed burns to manage the forest, and maintaining recreation sites. She provides Special Use permits for temporary and continuous use of U.S. Forest Service land, and manages a website which is used by individuals to make reservations for campsites.

Thomas also supervises two employees and often partners with employees of the Youth Conservation Corps, the Student Conservation Association, volunteers, and other agencies on special projects.

While enrolled in the MNR degree, Thomas  worked as a district conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“My plate is always full, with no breaks,” said Thomas. “But I am very grateful for the opportunity that Virginia Tech and the department of natural resources provided.”

Thomas said the writing mentorship she received was one of the most helpful aspects of the program, guiding Alicia through the obstacles she encountered putting pen-to- paper, and fostering her love of writing about natural resources.

“Dr. Kieran Lindsey and Dr. Heather Eves really came through for me,” said Thomas. “They encouraged me to not give up.”

Originally from Los Angeles, California, Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Tuskegee University. She has an MS in Urban Forestry from Southern University and Masters in Agriculture and Life Science (Food Safety and Biosecurity Concentration) from Virginia Tech, but felt there was a educational gap that still needed to be filled.

Natural resources just seemed like the key piece I was missing.

“We can have great soil, but if it’s eroding or affected by climate change, what good is it? The MNR program took me to the next level in terms of my understanding of the big picture, Thomas explained.