EVERYTHING IS A JOURNEY FOR DR. STEPHANIE FREEMAN
Stephanie Freeman’s love of nature started at the tender age of six when she accompanied her grandfather to a garden store and adopted a sickly plant. “Let’s buy it and see if it grows,” said her grandpa. Little Stephanie enjoyed nursing the plant back to health and from there on declared her love of the great outdoors and all things natural.
Freeman’s passion continues as a GIS Coordinator for the Forest Service. The Geographical Information Systems that Dr. Freeman developed helps bring the benefits of technology to the great outdoors. “There are more than 80 million people residing within an eight-hour drive of the White Mountain National Forest,” says Freeman. “The information I develop provides updates on hiking trails, timber harvests and many other natural resources.”
Generations of people have enjoyed the White Mountain National Forest, whether for hiking, camping, or to enjoy the rivers. “There is something here for everyone,” says Freeman. Dr. Freeman helped develop an interactive application map for visitors that can be accessed via phone or laptop.
As a woman of color, Dr. Freeman is breaking down barriers by choosing a profession that has typically been the purview of white males. Freeman also broke through some stereotypes held by her own family. “My family would have preferred that I become a doctor or lawyer. Forestry to them was linked to horticulture, and that was linked to the stigma of slavery in their minds.” Nonetheless, Freeman’s passion for forestry work remained. “I love what I do! Honestly, if I’d limited myself to what others thought I should be, I’d never be where I am right now.”
Dr. Freeman is also a graduate of the Equity Leaders Fellowship (ELF), a program supported by the Endowment for Health that identifies notable professionals from communities of color and prepares them to take leadership positions on committees, boards and other state and local civic bodies. “ELF helped me to leverage who I am. I know I am breaking stereotypes and barriers. The program showed me how to embrace who I am and how to demonstrate to others my unique talents and skills,” she said.
Beyond her groundbreaking work with the Forest Service, Dr. Freeman serves in many other capacities. She sits on the boards of the NH Prostate Cancer Coalition and also the North East Arc GIS Users Group. She also started a campus ministry at Plymouth State University.
“It’s challenging living in the North Country,” she said. “When I first arrived in New Hampshire, I found it hard to fit in culturally and to socialize. That’s why I started the campus ministry. We do art therapy using watercolor and nature sceneries every Wednesday, It’s a great opportunity to make friends.” Dr. Freeman is many-faceted and also hosts a local TV show aimed at educating the public about the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). She is also a noted presenter on the Black Heritage Trail.
“I think it’s important to keep your interests varied. I try to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the ride,” said Freeman. “We can all make positive change in the world from where we sit.”