Laura Pardee Thrives in Forestry Training with Career Advance Colorado


Like a lot of Coloradans, Laura Pardee loves the outdoors. You can catch her paddleboarding, hiking or embarking on other adventures with her dog.

But nature is more than a playground for Pardee—it’s her future workplace. She’s a semester away from graduating with an associate degree in forestry and already has a job lined up.

“I’m outside as much as I can be,” she said. “I am excited to be on a path that brings me a lot of joy.”

Finding Purpose

That path has taken many twists and turns, Pardee said. After graduating high school, she found jobs in local government and customer service. None of these positions aligned with her interests.

That changed when she began backpacking in her late twenties.

I am excited to be on a path that brings me a lot of joy.
Laura Pardee, Front Range Community College Student

“I realized that I had this love for the mountains, for the trees, and just our world around us,” she said. “I made the decision that I should go to school first to be more purposeful with my future, and forestry is what made sense to me.”

Pardee landed at Front Range Community College’s Larimer Campus in Fort Collins, which offers one of the state’s only forestry training programs. Most lessons are held in local and state parks, where students learn about soil science, hydrology, and other fields that impact forest and tree health. They also practice chain-sawing and other safety protocol.

“We learn such tangible skills. They’re teaching us specifically what we’re going to use in our work,” said Pardee. “We get that full spectrum of the ecological process and how it’s all intertwined.”

The training is also free for Pardee thanks to the state’s Career Advance Colorado program. The initiative covers all tuition, fees, and course materials in seven in-demand areas, including forestry. Next year, she’ll graduate with an associate of applied science degree in forestry technology, as well as two certificates in forestry and geographic information systems (GIS).

Pardee calls the financial assistance “incredibly beneficial.”

“I have always worked while going to school, but I’m really able to minimize the amount,” she explained. “I have a better balance between my professional needs and my academic needs.”

A ‘Holistic Perspective’

While Pardee has relished her field work, she especially values the professional connections she’s forged through the program. Professors regularly organize volunteer opportunities that allow students to practice their skills in diverse environments, she said.

Those opportunities led to her first part-time job with the Larimer Conservation District, where she’ll continue to work full-time after graduating next spring. As a forestry technician, Pardee categorizes trees and marks those that need to be culled to prevent overgrowth.

“It’s a puzzle, really, because I have to picture what a healthy forest looks like and arrange the trees in a way that will make the forest come back healthier and stronger and more resilient,” she said. “I get to see the work that I do and have this holistic perspective, which I think is rare.”

Pardee has been “an incredible asset,” according to Matt Marshall, the director of forestry with the Larimer Conservation District. The organization has been able to hire five FRCC students so far, two of whom have stayed on full-time. Together, they have helped restore regional riverscapes and more than 700 acres of forest.

“The Larimer Conservation District has been able to build staff capacity, leading to the accomplishment of more on-the-ground work,” he said. “We are extremely fortunate to have this partnership with Front Range Community College and attribute the success of the program to FRCC’s hands-on and experiential learning approach.”

As she’s blazed a trail to a new career, Pardee hopes more prospective learners will embrace a sense of adventure.

“There’s a lot to be said for growing and continuing to learn at any time,” she said. “There is no reason to feel bad that it’s later in life, and there’s no reason to feel pressure to do it because you’re right out of high school. We should all follow our own paths.”

More Stories