HOUSTON / ATLANTA / MONROVIA

Tuskegee University’s Dr. Rashidah H. Farid-Tilghman

“Blessed to Create the Professional World I Dreamt of as a Child”

Interview by: Cynthia L. Blandford, Publisher

As Publisher and CFO of iF Magazine, and as the University Consortium for Liberia (UCL) Consultant for the Higher Education for Conservation Activity (HECA), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), it was great pleasure to meet Dr. Rashidah Farid-Tilghman as we launched the August 2023 Forestry, Biodiversity, Conservation Soft Rollout Curriculum Workshop, Green Enterprise Panel Discussion and the Forestry, Biodiversity, and Conservation (FBC) Center Open House in Liberia. 

Representing one of two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA on the HECA project, Dr. Rashidah is a Research Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Director of the Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries Program at Tuskegee University in the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Dr. Rashidah was a star as she engaged and excited students and faculty at the various workshops about forestry management. There is no question that she also served as a role model for young people who are considering this field of work. Alabama A&M is the other HBCU supporting HECA in Liberia with leadership from Dr. Kozma Naka, Associate Professor of Forest Operations and Measurements and Dr. Troy Bowman, Assistant Professor in the Forestry, Ecology and Wildlife Program. 

The role of HBCUs in Africa can play a significant role in sharing and strengthening historical, cultural and educational programs through student and faculty exchanges, study abroad, service learning and curriculum development. HECA offers a great opportunity to further collaborations, engagements and ties between HBCU’s and African educational institutions moving forward.

Please share with us your professional background and tell us about yourself. 

I am currently a Research Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Director of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Program at Tuskegee University in the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. 

An alumna of Tuskegee University with a B.S. in Animal and Poultry Science, and a Masters of Plant and Soil Science from Alabama A&M University, and an alumna of the 2018 Environmental Fellows Program through the University of Michigan, I also hold a Ph.D. from the University of Florida in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation with a concentration in quantitative analyses. 

Originally, from the rural town of Abbeville, Alabama, my passion for nature and conservation has been in the forefront of my life’s mission. As an ecologist, I have worked in state, federal and the private sector where I gained a diverse knowledge of natural resource systems and management. I have also been a lifelong advocate for service and community-based development. In my spare time, I serve on the board of Alabama Audubon Society, and as a member of the Alabama New South Coalition- a community-based activism group the strives to promote the general welfare of all people through progressive ideals of freedom, justice and democracy. While my research varies from soil conservation to marine species feed strategies, I am most proud of my extension work with students and the development of natural resource management tools for low resource landowners. I am also a passionate ecologist, community development advocate, and a loving wife and mother. 

For the majority of my professional life, she states that “I have been unsurprisingly a minority, a woman, rural black, southern Muslim, and a wildlife ecologist. In principle, I have trained myself to lean into the uncomfortable, thus hardening myself to the reality that pursuits of my passions meant a sense of belonging would be elusive.”  As a child in rural Alabama, she was known as little Farid. Now, Dr. Rashidah Farid- Tilghman, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology, notes that “I am blessed to have the ability to create the professional world I dreamt of as a child,” as it is a privilege to mentor the next generation of minority natural resource professionals at Tuskegee University.

How are you involved in the Higher Education for Conservation Activity (HECA) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)?

In January, I was asked to join the Higher Education for Conservation Activity (HECA) team to help bring a national forestry curriculum to Liberia. The project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), led by the University of Georgia (UGA) in partnership with Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), the University Consortium for Liberia (UCL), Alabama A&M University (AA&M), Tuskegee University (TU), the University of Liberia (UL) and the Forestry Training Institute (FTI). Our task is to create a National Forestry Curriculum that 1) promotes Liberian governments’ conservation focus 2) enhances professional development (soft skills) 3) promotes gender equitable economic mobility and education. 

I arrived in Liberia in early August for a two-week expository workshop and with the expectation of observing the needs of both students and faculty at the University of Liberia and the Forestry Training Institute. I was invited to conduct a workshop on carbon credits and conservation management at each campus. This allowed me the opportunity to interact with students, learn about their interests and aspirations. Students all across Liberia are visionaries with a hunger for forest conservation and well posed to be the next leaders of a green economy. At the center, Liberian youth are prioritizing conservation, gender equity, cultural preservation and livelihood improvement for forest communities. 

At the University of Liberia, Fendall Campus, a young woman volunteered to represent the Cultural Chief in our community role play activity. I admired her powerful advocacy for forest community cultures and sacred forest traditions. With fierce reiteration, she demanded cultural preservation and not touristic cultural exploration. 

Tell us about your experience at the Forestry Training Institute (FTI) and what you accomplished during your visit there.

Classes were not yet in session when I arrived at the FTI. However, Instructor Janet Lolemeh, FTI’s HECA Field Coordinator, sent word that I was coming to give a workshop. To my surprise, students began arriving by motorbike the night before my presentation. That evening they lead me on a hike through the campus forest. The campus was littered with the innovation of students: nursery of native plants; landscaped poultry house and agroforestry plots with cassava. Our evening stroll concluded at the campus waterfall. The morning of the workshop, over 35 students and more than 12 faculty were present. The conservation workshop designed for the students turned into a faculty working group with side discussion topics that should be included in this Fall’s courses. I was overwhelmed by the commitment and passion of both students and faculty striving towards nation building. 

During your National Curriculum workshop discussions with faculty and students, please share what happened and next steps. 

Liberia is on the cusp of building a national curriculum focused on conservation first and a sustainable economy. The work of the FTI is thus nation building. This burden weighs heavily upon students, as most are from forest communities with subsistence farming and charcoal production. FTI scholars are striving to develop new appropriate technologies to create forest communities’ economic based non-timber products that improve livelihoods and reinforce conservation. 

The HECA team spent the following week pouring over curriculum competencies and teaching pedagogies. Upon the recommendations from FTI and UL faculty, we developed proposed workshops to create and implement new skill sets for the curriculum, while ensuring cultural relevance and regional context. This Fall, Tuskegee University, along with the other partner institutions, will be hosting HECA Fellows from UL and FTI. These faculty fellows will be sponsored to participate in a three-week training in the U.S. in the disciplines of gender equity, forestry field techniques and wildlife population assessment. 

What was your greatest take away from your visit to Liberia that you would like to share? 

Too often outsiders come and go in Liberia, never building lasting relationships. The students and faculty have every right to be jaded and uncooperative. Yet, they embraced me as their sister and colleague. The people of Liberia have gifted me with a sense of belonging which I professionally had yet to experience in the United States. In Liberia, I am but one of many, rural black women, who are also Muslim and are natural resource professionals. It has been and will continue to be my honor to serve the Liberian people. Over the next five years, the entire HECA team, is committed to bring a national forestry curriculum to Liberia including the appropriate technologies and training for Liberian faculty, and I will be with Liberia, championing the rights of woman, advocating for forest and wildlife conservation, and promoting a sustainable economy for many more years to come! 

In the lyrical words of Angelique Kidjo and Burna Boy, Liberia “Do Yourself!” It’s beautiful!

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