Jerri Marr Challenges Them to Use Both Soft and Technical Skills to Better Society


2015 UT CASNR Spring Commencement

U.S. Forest Service leader Jerri Marr, third from right, joins spring graduates of the University of Tennessee College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in a celebratory moment. Marr returned to her alma mater on May 6 as commencement speaker. She told the university’s newest alums that  success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in a community. “So don’t forget to say thank you and remember everyone who helps you along the way.” The Memphis native earned a B.S. in forestry and natural resource management from the college in 1992. Photo by R. Maxey, courtesy UTIA. Download image.



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Trailblazing U.S. Forest Service leader Jerri Marr charged spring graduates of the University of Tennessee College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) to pack soft skills along with the tremendous technical skills they have learned in their studies for their career journeys.
She told them those skills—like communications, flexibility, team work and collaboration, problem solving and analytical skills, self-confidence, conflict resolution and the ability to accept constructive criticism, to name just a few— “are the keys to open doors. I can guarantee you that if you have these keys they will help you to succeed in all that you do.”
Marr, who earned a B.S. in forestry and natural resource management from the college in 1992, drew heavily upon those keys when the Waldo Canyon Fire broke out in 2012 in her first year as forest supervisor for the Pike and San Isabel National Forest and the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands in Colorado.
Over the course of 28 days, the fire burned hundreds of homes, thousands of acres, threatened to burn the U.S. Air Force Academy, major telecommunications sites, and shut down a major highway. Marr was in charge of coordinating community, media, Forest Service and emergency response team efforts combatting the blaze. It was those soft skills along with technical ones that enabled her to keep everything under control. As a result, the response was efficient and measured, and she became a revered figure and role model through the process.
As a Forest Service professional and successful African-American, Marr has mentored youth in the community and college students in forestry and wildlife in ensuing years and continues to do so today.
In her address to spring graduates May 6, she urged UT’s newest alumni to: “Be fearless. Be the best you can be. You have trained. You have prepared. Your bags are packed, and now you’re ready to go out and take your rightful place. Be the positive addition your organization needs.”
Marr has represented the UT Institute of Agriculture throughout her life. She credits 4-H for helping her build the skills needed for success. As a 4-H’er in her hometown of Memphis, Marr visited the agricultural campus in Knoxville to participate in a statewide competition. While on campus, she met several faculty members who invited her to learn more about the college. Soon she was offered a collegiate scholarship to study forestry in CASNR and quickly became a student the faculty knew had great potential. She started a career with the Forest Service two weeks after graduation.
Recently, Marr was appointed assistant director for recreation for the Forest Service in Washington D.C. There she oversees planning and coordination of outdoor recreation program policies and provides technical leadership and guidance to the national recreation program.
The college is a unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture, headquartered in Knoxville. CASNR’s spring graduating class included approximately 190 students receiving bachelor’s degrees, as well as 33 men and women receiving M.S. degrees and five receiving Ph.Ds.
The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.

Margot Emery, UTIA Marketing and Communications, 865-974-7374,