Major Spotlight: the dirt on forestry with Thomas Hatling (C’19)

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Thomas Hatling (C’19). Picture courtesy of Hatling.

By Lucy Rudman
Contributing Writer

This summer, while most college kids fled their campuses, their towns, and their lives as students, Thomas Hatling (C’19) got well acquainted with trees.

2,733 trees, to be exact.

Hatling got the unique opportunity to work with forestry professors Dr. Karen Kuers and Dr. Scott Torreano on an arboretum survey project at the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly, inventorying trees and assessing their health. For his senior project, Hatling will be comparing the data he collected this summer to the last study, which was conducted in 1996.

For a forestry major, identifying and assessing trees is not unusual. When prompted, Hatling was able to name every plant within sight.

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Thomas Hatling (C’19). Picture courtesy of Hatling.

“You look at this and know that it’s a phone,” he said, gesturing at the phone on the table. Then he pointed to a tree and said, “That’s a bald cypress. Right over there, there’s a White Oak.”

Hatling views the world through a lens acquired only after years of study and practice. He doesn’t simply look at the natural world. He examines it. This skill didn’t come naturally, however. Hatling did not even come to Sewanee with Forestry in mind.

Initially, he wanted to follow a pre-med track.  But when he took a dendrology course with Torreano second semester of freshman year, something just clicked. One of his favorite metaphors for detailing the forest world comes from  Kuers.

“You can walk out in the forest, and it’s like looking at a painting,” Hatling explained. “Your experience looking at a painting is going to be so much better if you can recognize the brushstrokes, if you can recognize the little parts of it.”

As a self-proclaimed lover of the outdoors, Hatling stays active in the forest community at Sewanee. Along with co-running the Forestry Club with Eli Walker (C’19), Hatling is a member of Sewanee’s Burn Team, a fitting role for his future profession.

“I definitely want to go into research. What I really want to do is fire ecology research,” Hatling said. “A lot of forest systems around the world, and very much so in the U.S., require fire to be kept up, like the oak-hickory forests here.”

However, though research is Hatling’s choice, it isn’t the only option for young forestry grads.

“Forestry can be very lucrative…like the timber industry,” Hatling explained. “You can go to non-profit, working on conservation. You can go into urban forestry. You could be a forest manager. There’s a lot of forestry positions where you don’t even go outside, things like statistics or analytics.”

As for Hatling’s advice for freshman interested in the major?

“Look at S.O.D.A (Sewanee Online Degree Audit)!” he said with a laugh. “Forestry has a lot of class requirements. I took all the classes that weren’t required.”

Either way, Hatling is excited to continue his career in the natural world after Sewanee, and he believes he’s found his passion.

“The analogy I like to use [for Forestry] is macro- and microeconomics. Macroeconomics is a big system, like the U.S., whereas microeconomics is more about your individual decisions. It’s the same idea with trees,” Hatling said. “We’re studying down to a cellular base for trees…but then we talk about the ecology of the forest and how everything interacts as a whole. I really fell in love with that.”

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