Eric Wiseman, associate professor of urban forestry and arboriculture and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, received the 2016 Alex L. Shigo Award for Arboricultural Education from the International Society of Arboriculture.
The award, one of the society’s Awards of Distinction, recognizes the important role that education plays in enhancing the quality and professionalism of the arboriculture industry through sustained excellence in arboricultural education. Its namesake, Alex Shigo, was a tree biologist and plant pathologist renowned throughout the industry for his studies on tree decay, which led to major changes in arboriculture.
Wiseman earned his undergraduate degree in wildlife science from Virginia Tech but took an entry-level position with Bartlett Tree Experts in Raleigh, North Carolina, after a chance meeting with a representative at a job fair on campus.
“You don’t really find careers in arboriculture; they seem to find you,” he said. While working as an arborist, he developed a passion for trees that he now strives to share with his students.
For Wiseman, fostering curiosity and enthusiasm in his students is crucial to successful arboriculture education. “I teach a lot of students who aren’t destined to become arborists, but most of them are living in areas surrounded by urban forests,” he said. “I try to show them that they’re going to learn something that will be relevant somewhere down the line.”
To do so, Wiseman, a faculty member in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, makes an effort to provide as many hands-on learning opportunities as possible. He has encouraged students to participate in Sustainability Week, Arbor Day events, and a campus tree inventory.
“As an undergraduate, I didn’t do as much as I could have to prepare for my career, so I want to make sure that my students have those opportunities” he said.
Some of his favorite mentorship opportunities have included involving his students in field research. Between 2009 and 2013, Wiseman partnered with the Virginia Department of Forestry to conduct street tree and urban forest assessments, allowing several undergraduate students the opportunity to assist with data collection. As program coordinator for the Virginia Big Tree Program, which is dedicated to educating citizens about the value of trees, Wiseman works regularly with student interns.
“Each day is something new for them,” he said. “It keeps you excited and motivated to work alongside them.”
Wiseman’s dedication to education extends beyond the classroom. He has served as secretary treasurer of the society's Arboricultural Research and Education Academy. As a member of its Educational Goods and Services Committee, he helped to develop a selection of digital educational materials for professional arborists. Beginning almost 10 years ago as a collection of CDs, the educational products that Wiseman helped the society create on integrated pest management and plant health have now been reformatted for online learning.
For Wiseman, receiving the award is both surprising and humbling. “I’m just a guy from Virginia Tech trying to inspire young folks about trees,” he said. “It causes you to reflect and appreciate the people who have helped you get where you are and the hard work you’ve put in.”
In addition to his dedication to arboriculture education, Wiseman is known for his work on roadside arboriculture management, citizen monitoring of the emerald ash borer infestation, and energy conservation benefits of landscape trees.
Wiseman earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech and his doctorate from Clemson University. He was honored with the International Society of Arboriculture’s Early Career Scientist Award in 2012.