Zakiya Leggett

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.

Degree                                        Ph.D. 2004 (North Carolina State University)
Position                                      Research Scientist
Department                                Research and Development Department
Organization                              Weyerhaeuser Company

zleggetI became interested in ecology as a child. My mother raised us to respect nature and its entirety and helped us gain an appreciation for the link between our livelihood and our surrounding natural environments. Although I was raised in Memphis, TN I attended a small boarding school called Piney Woods Country Life School in Piney Woods, Mississippi for high school. We had a farm on campus where some of our cafeteria food was raised and/or grown and all students had to work there at some point during their school term. While at Piney Woods a representative from the USDA Forest Service, Tina Terrell, visited and presented a dual-degree program in forestry.

Mentors and Pathways in Ecology: While at Tuskegee University I became a part of the SEEDS program which was very vital in the continuation of my interest in ecology. The SEEDS program and the Forest Service Initiative Program opened up many doors of opportunities and exposed me to several different options for a career field through summer internships, field trips, attending ESA meetings, career forums, etc.

Dan Durrett, co-founder of the SEEDS program, became a lifelong mentor and quite determined to see me succeed in my goals to become a research scientist. Throughout my studies and even currently, one of the most consistent mentors I have is Doug Hileman, a professor and advisor for SEEDS at Tuskegee. He has been a very influential and encouraging advisor. Dan Richter, my advisor from Duke University, has always challenged me to pursue things I thought to be quite challenging and has always had encouraging words to keep me motivated. He provided me with the opportunity to teach my first course (Soil Resources, ENV 221) as sole instructor while he was on sabbatical at Duke University.

My route:
I was accepted as a Forest Service Initiative Scholar and attended Tuskegee University for 3 years and Duke University for 2 years which resulted in my earning my B.S. in Forest Resources and Masters in Forestry. I graduated last May with a Ph.D. in Forest Soils from NC State University. I did not take a break between my 3 degrees so I have only worked summer internships. I have recently accepted a position as a research scientist with the Research and Development Department of Weyerhaeuser Company.

Some of the challenges I have been faced with include:

  • Working in environments not exposed to diversity and therefore afraid to embrace someone from a different background
  • Finding steady African-American and/or female mentors
  • Transitioning from a HBCU to a “majority” university
  • Remaining focused in my Ph.D. program after being in school consistently since high school
  • Connecting some of my research to “real-world” scenarios
  • Becoming comfortable with oral presentations

Past positions:

  • During the summers I worked the following positions:
  • Forest Service Wildlife Biologist Student Trainee (Mountain Rest, SC)
  • Forest Service Forestry Student Trainee (Auburn, AL)
  • Forest Service Soil Science Student Trainee (Pineville, LA)
  • Institute of Ecosystem Studies Research for Undergraduates (REU) Program
  • During the school years I worked in several laboratories on campus related to my degree program:
  • Tuskegee University Forestry Undergraduate Research Assistant
  • Tuskegee University Soil Science Undergraduate Research Assistant
  • Duke University Forest, Soil and Water Laboratory Research Assistant
  • NC State University Graduate Research Assistant

Key Advice:

  • Push through whatever barriers stand in your way in situations where you know the end result will benefit you in the long-run
  • Grab people you are interested in having as your mentor and ask them about doing so in a straight forward manner
  • Be open to new people and new ideas
  • Become involved in the community and giving back in every way possible
  • Read, read and read lots of papers, books, etc. that are related to what you are interested in pursuing as a research topic and/or career
  • Get involved in environmental/ecology education because it is FUN and it will help you determine which topics you are passionate about

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