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Black Excellence: Associate Professor Louie Rivers

Louie Rivers is an associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. Rivers earned his Ph.D. in natural resources from Ohio State University and currently teaches adaptive management and governance and environmental justice and decision making. He is also researching green infrastructure and tree planting projects in minority and underserved communities, as well as heir land loss prevention.

We recently spoke to Rivers about his experiences as a Black scientist in the field of natural resources. The following Q&A is a part of a Black History Month series highlighting the outstanding contributions Black faculty, staff and students have made to the College of Natural Resources.

Tell us about some of your earliest memories of being outside. 

My father grew up on a farm in Bamburg, South Carolina. My brother and I would spend two or three weeks with our grandparents on the farm during summer break as kids. Most of my early memories outside come from visiting the farm.

What has it been like as a Black, Indigenous, Person of Color (BIPOC) to study within your field and pursue your career?

Personally, it has often been lonely. There are not many other people of color that choose to work in this field, and the culture is often far from inviting. However, it has been greatly rewarding since many Black and underserved communities are in desperate need of the knowledge and expertise that can be found in the natural resources.

What challenges have you faced in pursuing your degrees and career?

I think historically, the field of natural resources has failed to center the experiences and needs of the most vulnerable communities. This has led to a myopic and exclusionary practice of science.

Do you have any specific memories or experiences in your career that stick with you?

I was fortunate enough to work on a project with my father early in my career. We were interviewing Black farmers in Kentucky about microbial contamination. It was a joy to drive across the state with my father and to talk to the farmers he spent his career seeking to empower.

Tell us about someone who supported and encouraged you to pursue your work.

I am eternally grateful to my Ph.D. advisor Joe Arvai. He saw something in me that I did not know was there. He has been a constant source of support across my career.

Why are you passionate about your field or work?

I am driven by two things: 1) Learning new things; 2) Helping minority and underserved communities.

What advice would you give to young BIPOC professionals entering your field? 

Please stick with the field of natural resources. I know it is often difficult, but there are tremendous opportunities to serve our communities.