A Force of nature — Retiring CNR professor reflects on experiences at UI

Passionate, dedicated, meticulous — three words University of Idaho professor Lisette Waits believes best describes her colleague, Jo Ellen Force.

“She is one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever worked with,” Waits said. “She’s a great mentor, but an even better friend.”

At the end of the semester, Force, a professor and former department head in the College of Natural Resources (CNR), will trade in her role as educator — a part she’s been playing for the past 38 years at UI — for a role as a community member.

Force came to the Palouse in the late ‘70s with her husband, Ron, after he’d been hired on by Washington State University. “When my husband accepted the position, I started looking around at what was available on the Palouse or, at least, in commuting distance,” Force said.

She said she applied for a visiting professorship at UI in the CNR’s Department of Forest, Rangeland and Fire Sciences, and was hired in 1979. She was one of three women in the entire department.

“Quite honestly, my career could have gone in more of an environmental science direction,” Force said. “But, having been raised on a farm in central Iowa, I understood the production aspect of forestry and the need to have a product that supported people’s livelihoods.”

She said her diverse perspective led her to concentrate on forest policy in relation to people and natural resources through the lens of a social scientist.

Force said that focus drove her to a variety of multifaceted opportunities — research or otherwise — which she has used to her advantage, especially if it involved traveling. She has traveled to each state in the U.S., more than 40 countries and every continent.

“There are a lot of people who are very good in their discipline, but there are fewer people who are willing to move into that uncomfortable territory of working across disciplines and working with people in areas you don’t fully understand,” Waits said. “Jo Ellen was always interested in doing that.”

Force said she will miss the structure teaching provided and being surrounded by people who are “constantly curious,” but is looking forward to having time to pursue other passions.

She said although she doesn’t have any concrete plans for after her retirement, she is sure of one thing — there will be no knitting or pottery in her future.

Force said her retirement does not mean she is “locking the door,” on UI, rather it opens a new one for her to walk through.

“She’s leaving a legacy of female leadership and incredible long-term dedication to students, to faculty (and) to the natural resource field,” Waits said. “I don’t think (UI) would, or even could, forget Jo Ellen Force.”

Olivia Heersink can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @heersinkolivia 


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