Who We Are

“I love being able to provide insight and know what’s happening at ISA,” she said “I think it’s really valuable because this is a membership organization and the only way the organization continues to grow and flourish is by members getting involved.”

In honor of International Women’s Day, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is sharing stories about women in the arboriculture profession throughout the month of March to honor their contributions to the industry.

Jessica Sander’s story with arboriculture began in graduate school. She attended Rutgers University where she earned a PhD in urban and community forestry.

“When I started out, I was really excited to work with trees and one of the reasons why was because I did my undergraduate environmental science and managed an arboretum,” Sanders said. “I felt like nature wasn't meant to be a destination it was meant to be part of everyone's everyday life, even if it's just a tree that you walk by as you're going to the bus.”

After graduate school, Sanders began working for a nonprofit called Casey Trees. It was during this time that she began to learn about arboriculture and the industry, and she eventually sat for an exam and earned the ISA Certified Arborist® credential.

“I had gone to ISA conferences both local chapters and the International Conference while I was in grad school, but I took the next step when I got my job out of graduate school and decided that this was really the path I wanted to be on,” she said. “I wanted the credential because I was younger at the time, and people didn't necessarily respect to the PhD as much as they respected the ISA certification so for me it was a no brainer.”

Sanders said she continues to maintain her credential because ISA provides a network for her to grow her skill set as well as connect with people she may not have connected with otherwise. It was through this network that Sanders eventually met former ISA Board President Dana Karcher, who encouraged Sanders to get more involved with ISA.

“I started out with the [Arboriculture Research and Education Academy] as a component and worked my way up from there,” Sanders said. “I eventually went to Leadership Workshop where I actually met Dana Karcher and was so inspired I said, ‘I want to be a board member. What should I do to better prepare myself so that I have all of the knowledge I would need,’ and she recommended that I get involved with the nominations and elections committee.”

Taking Karcher’s advice, Sanders served on the Election and Nominations Committee as the chair, but it was only the beginning. Sanders would eventually go on to work with the Conference Program Committee and the Educational Programs and Services Committee.

“I love being able to provide insight and know what’s happening at ISA,” she said. “I think it’s really valuable because this is a membership organization and the only way the organization continues to grow and flourish is by members getting involved.”

Over the course of her career Sanders worked with Casey Trees where she led policy and advocacy strategy on city-wide urban forestry issues. She also served as an instructor at Rutgers University in arboriculture and published original research around issues facing urban trees and under-canopied neighborhoods. Today, Sanders works as the Executive Director for the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Looking back over her career, the thing that sticks out to Sanders are the people she’s hired throughout the years.

“Throughout my career, I’ve employed over 250 people and I love the fact that I get to watch them grow as employees and people and find their path,” Sanders said. “Some of those people started with summer internships or biking around Washington D.C. surveying trees and then turned out to love it and went on to earn their own arborist certification, or attend grad school. Nurturing them and knowing I had a very small part to play in their introduction to the industry is a really proud moment for me. It’s because of this industry and ISA that I have felt so inspired to lead an organization that's dedicated to making our communities livable and lovable through trees.”

Sander’s career, however, has not been without its challenges. Early in her career, Sander’s work partner sawed through his finger and had to have multiple surgeries. Sanders said she remembers feeling downtrodden and thought maybe arboriculture wasn’t the right industry for her. Fortunately, Sanders had a good support system to help her navigate this difficult time.

“I was pleasantly shocked with all of the people I had met and the support they had for me,” she said.

Sanders also realized the value of having arborists from different backgrounds bringing new perspectives to the industry.

“Our world is changing, and the dynamic is changing, and we need to embrace that as an industry,” she said. “Not everyone thinks or looks the same. Recognizing that people have different ideas makes us stronger as an industry and individuals. By encouraging diversity we're really ensuring that those conversations aren't just happening in the dark. That we're having them in in the light and we're proud about it.”

Check out the other Women in Arboriculture profiles.