Getting Involved and Making a Change
Like many before her, Sara Sankowich’s arboricultural career began with a love of being outdoors; however, it wasn’t until she received an opportunity through the Girl Scouts when she began to make it happen.
“I got accepted to a wider opportunity through the Girl Scouts program and chose to go work in Michigan with the Forest Service,” she said. “While there I talked with the different employees and asked them how they got their jobs and what they went to school for. That is sort of where I learned I wanted to go to school for natural resource management, forestry, arboriculture or something along those lines.”
Originally, Sankowich went to school to study outdoor recreation, but after being in the field she realized she preferred urban forestry. After graduating, she began applying for different types of public service jobs. It wasn’t until she interviewed with a “seasoned” arborist, that Sankowich considered the utility field.
“He basically said to me that when you work in utility, you don’t just see the trees in your town or trees that somebody called you about, you get to see all the trees,” she said. “You have an opportunity to influence a lot of different towns. You can see a lot of the good programs they have and helps other towns adopt those programs.”
Additionally, Sankowich said he expressed to the importance of getting involved with professional organizations such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the Utility Arborist Association (UAA), and the Tour des Trees. Today, she is a member of both organizations as well as an ISA Certified Arborist®.
Since pursuing a career on the utility side of the industry, Sankowich said she’s had the opportunity to create a lot of positive change in her community.
“Even though we’re in the business of delivering safe and reliable electric power the management of vegetation is very important and I’ve always been taken very seriously and respected and had a lot of input,” she said. “That’s just very fulfilling to see the ideas and thoughts we have put into play and making changes in the community, and I love to be able be a part of that and help out different towns.”
Over the course of her career, Sankowich has created a storm resiliency program, is responsible for one of the leading tree risk assessment protocols for utility arboriculture and served as president of the UAA.
However, what stands out to her the most are not the positions she’s held, but rather the opportunities she’s had interact with her fellow arborist and members of the community.
“As president of the [UAA] I got to welcome everyone to the Arbor Day Foundations' Trees and Utilities Conference, and it was amazing to look out and see all of the people that were there,” she said. “Those are the things that stand out for me, like the Arbor Day celebrations and tree giveaway events with the community.”
Looking back, Sankowich credits her success to understanding her strengths and weaknesses.
“I’ve found it best to be myself,” she said. “When I first started out I think I felt a little bit like I had to try to be more masculine and appear like I could do things that everyone else could, but I quickly realized I have different strengths, and diversity is good, and that I should just be myself, bring those strengths to the table, and never try to do something I can’t do.”
She went on to say that as more people enter the industry, she hopes that people won’t limit themselves and go after what it is they want.
“I hope that there’s a lot of people out there no matter what their gender is or where they come from that can just look and see that we’re all different and that anyone can aspire to be involved and be part of the programs that make this happen and find time to give back. I think a lot of people think ‘I won’t be able to run a program,’ or ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to learn of these things,’ but just recognizing that if you have the drive and the passion for it you can do any of that. Don’t hold yourself back from any of it.”
Check out the other Women in Arboriculture profiles.