If part of being successful is asking the right questions, then Shelda Owens got off to an early start.
In middle school, inspired by a television show that featured daring mountain rescues, she wrote a letter to the U.S. Forest Service to learn more about working in forestry. The Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, native knew she liked being outside and was curious what a career in forestry might look like.
Well, according to the response to her letter, it’s not quite as nail-biting as the TV drama. But that initial inquiry opened a door that led to a summer career camp in high school hosted by the U.S. Forest Service. After exposure to various forest management activities at the camp affirmed her career aspirations in the field of forestry, she set out reviewing colleges with the best forestry programs. “And, the University of Georgia was on that list,” says Owens (BSFR ’98, MS ’01). “At that point I said, well, if I’m going to do this, I want to go to a school that’s top in forestry.”
Today, Owens combines her in-the-field knowledge gained as an undergraduate student with the business acumen that came from her master’s in forest business. As a director with Timberland Services for Bank of America, she leads a team of asset managers and assists clients in establishing their timberlands goals and objectives adhering to the fiduciary standard. The management team works towards developing a strategy to preserve and enhance the asset value; provide guidance with harvest scheduling and silvicultural activities; and assessing asset performance and oversight including asset valuation, asset reviews and field inspections. The team also supports the acquisition team in the execution of timberland assets into a broader asset allocation and investment strategy for individuals, families and institutions.
But working in the financial side of forest management wasn’t originally part of her plans. Before she came to Warnell, Owens continued her connections with the U.S. Forest Service—a summer camp before her senior year led to a summer internship before she came to college. Then, as a Warnell student, Owens was able to make a connection with Westvaco, a forest products company near her hometown in South Carolina. The experiences began to add up.
“Warnell introduced me to Westvaco and I started interning for them every summer except one summer I worked for Weyerhaeuser,” she says. “I was working in and getting exposure to various aspects of the forest management business ahead of most other students.”
And along with professional experience, these employers also gave her advice: Go for your master’s degree. So, Owens says, she decided to go for it, applying to the forest economics program offered through the UGA Harley Langdale Jr. Center for Forest Business, housed at Warnell.
“As much as I enjoyed being outdoors, I realized, as employers and faculty echoed, I could have more opportunities with a master’s and business background,” she says.
She’s been with Bank of America for 13 years now, and the experience is a perfect blend of boots-on-the-ground forest management and business and financial management.
It’s a good balance. She has even taught her husband a few things about forestry on their hikes around Atlanta and the world, and she adopted a dog she found on a logging operation in Alabama more than 10 years ago.
“I manage properties and do site inspections and have flexibility on the kind of days I go out,” she says. “And I like numbers and analytics, so it all feeds together.”