John Freeborn’s first priority as the new director of employer relations for the College of Natural Resources and Environment will be to hear from students, faculty, and employers so he can develop a strategy to better enhance relationships between Virginia Tech students and the industries eager to hire them.

“I think the first step will be a lot of listening for me,” Freeborn said. “I want to talk to employers and students to find out what their needs are, and then see how those two sides match up. I also want to utilize the strong relationships that faculty members already have with employers and industry.”

The new position is part of the college’s efforts to better link the forestry and forest products sector with Virginia Tech, community colleges, and high school students, fostering awareness of employment needs and opportunities in the sector and, ultimately, ensuring a sustainable forest industry in Virginia and beyond. The sector contributes more than $21 billion annually to the economy of the commonwealth.

Funding for the position was made possible by a generous donation from Ken Morgan of Morgan Lumber Company, whose nearly 30-year relationship with Virginia Tech has helped numerous Hokies gain internships and find employment.

Freeborn, who graduated from Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a bachelor’s (’98) and master’s (’00) in crop and soil environmental science, said that while the university has seen a lot of growth since he was a student, the guiding philosophy of its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), has endured.

“The university has moved into a new era,” Freeborn said, “but what hasn’t changed is the land-grant philosophy of the university and the overall sense of connectedness and commitment to service that comes from being a Hokie.”

Mindful of that commitment to connect and engage with the wider community, Freeborn noted the college’s efforts to increase outreach and recruitment to students from southern and southwestern Virginia as influencing his work in this new role.

“I’m originally from Southwest Virginia, and it’s a place I care deeply about and have strong connections to,” Freeborn noted. “I’m excited to work with John Gray Williams, the college’s director of recruitment. He’s starting a pipeline of students from those areas to the university, and I see my role as being on the other end, helping them to exit to careers in their field.”

Freeborn comes to the director of employer relations position having served as assistant state master gardener coordinator for the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In that role, he coordinated some 5,000 volunteer educators who work to educate Virginia students and adults on better horticulture and gardening practices.

“I think of what I did in that role as being of service to educators in the state,” Freeborn explained. “In this new position, I hope to bring the same commitment to service for the students and faculty at Virginia Tech, and the industries and partners we’ll be working with.”

Freeborn said that success will show in the number of students who leave Virginia Tech ready and able to jump into careers in their chosen field, as well as the development of relationships with employers across the state and beyond.

“In five years, I’d like to see us have even stronger ties with the forestry and forest products industries,” Freeborn said. “If we can increase the number of internships and co-op opportunities for students, and then get employment for our students when they graduate, those would be markers of success. It is my belief that this position can become a main point of contact for linking students and employers.”

Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, said: “We have great aspirations for this new position in the college, John’s ability to execute on our vision, and where we are going. Every effort we can make to develop the human resources for this sector is important for sustainability at all levels, from the materials, to the economy, to the environment.”

“Our vision is for Virginia Tech to be the place that the North American forestry and forest products industries come to first and for them to partner with us and be engaged with us in ways that makes a difference,” he continued. “I am thankful for Ken Morgan’s generosity, commitment, and vision about sustainable forestry and helping us plant the seeds for tomorrow’s success.”

Industry professionals interested in placing students in internships or partnering with the College of Natural Resources and Environment in some other capacity can contact John Freeborn at 540-231-1138 or freeborn@vt.edu.

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