Sandra Milena Sánchez, a Colombian expert in urban forestry

Versión en Español

Sandra Milena Sánchez is a Colombian woman, forest engineer and General Manager of Ecoambiente Ingeniería S.A.S. She has a lot of experience in urban forestry, green areas, and vegetation cover management in urban areas.

In this interview she shares some of her experiences and challenges she has faced in the sector.


Lili: Sandra, why did you decide to become a Forest Engineer?

Sandra: Studying forest engineering was a decision that was born from my childhood in the countryside, in a village, from there I had the desire to study something related to animals and/or nature. First when I was a child I wanted to study veterinary, but when it was time to decide I dismissed it considering that to perform a surgical intervention to animals caused me terror. In the searching, a friend of my sister’s told her that she was studying Forestry Engineering, so we got the brochure, I read what the career was about and immediately I decided to apply to the University.

Lili: What are the main challenges you have faced professionally as a forest engineer?

Sandra: I have worked all my professional life in Urban Forestry issues, most of this work at the time I started my professional work was led by men, also the operational issue by the strength required is executed by men. To earn a place and respect I think that as a woman requires a little more effort because in some cases sexism is present. However, for me it was a positive surprise to see how people with less academic training were sometimes more receptive than the same male colleagues.

Lili: What awakened your interest in working in urban forestry, how was your process?

Sandra: Actually it was almost the life that set me on this path, without looking for it. In college I dreamed of working with communities in natural forests, protected areas and issues related to sustainable management. However, despite looking for that direction, what began to come to me was the work with trees in Bogota. So I joined the Botanical Garden of Bogota to the Office of Urban Arboriculture, where at first I thought it was just a temporary job while I managed to get a job related to the issues I mentioned above. A person very close to me, an entrepreneur, encouraged me not to see it as an “temporal job” but to take advantage of the opportunity to be there, and to gain firsthand all the knowledge and experience that the entity could provide me to achieve a greater goal, which was to be able to work independently.

Thus the Botanical Garden became my great school, the Botanical Garden since 1998 with the start of the urban arboriculture program, handles much of the maintenance of the vegetation cover of the city between trees and urban gardening. There I had the opportunity to meet with engineers who started with the Office of Urban Arboriculture, learning a lot from their experience, successes and failures in the management of urban trees.

I met the Forestry Engineer Marcela Serrano, an officer of the Garden, who at that time held a management position within the Office. Her tenacity and work capacity inspired me to continue learning about the subject and I gained confidence in the roles I was able to play. At the Botanical Garden I not only learned about the technical field, but also about administrative issues that have helped me greatly in my performance as a contractor of forestry management projects.

Lili: What do you think are the skills that a Forest Engineer develops?

Sandra: I think the work is challenging, the operative part requires to be tough, constant and develop a quick mind to solve the problems that arise in the works. It also requires respectful and clear communication strategies with all the collaborators so that the work is carried out successfully.

Lili: From your experience, do you consider that women’s participation in arboriculture and urban forestry has changed from what it was 10 years ago?

Sandra: Yes, it is. In my experience more women are entering this field. In Bogota right now we have works in public spaces throughout the city, in most of the projects at any level there is a woman engineer, whether as a supervisor, auditor or worker. It has to do with the fact that in the last 10 years more women have been studying Forestry Engineering at the Distric University, most of my colleagues are from there.

Lili: What are the current and future challenges that women face in this sector?

Sandra: I think the challenge remains the same, to demonstrate that we have the necessary skills to lead operational and administrative issues. To generate credibility, every day I believe that the gender issue weighs less negatively.

According to my perception, being a woman gives a seal of confidence and quality in the work performed. I believe that the challenge lies in directing works, in measuring up to the challenge of executing technical tasks in the field. In that sense, I do believe that we have a great challenge. Most of the companies dedicated to Urban Forestry are headed by men; women have more of an administrative participation or in field execution, but not in work management. However, there we have a great space to conquer and work hand in hand with our colleagues.

Another great challenge that is transversal to any professional activity is to be able to reconcile the fact of being a woman with a successful professional career and maintain a balance with personal and family life. Because of the commitment we manage with our jobs, as far as I can perceive, it is sometimes difficult to maintain that balance. Although this is not a purely professional issue, it is the greatest challenge, so that our jobs do not become our greatest sources of stress and fatigue, but rather inspiration and fulfillment. It is the great challenge that we all men and women have.

Lili: And finally, what advice would you give to future foresters who want to venture into urban forestry?

Sandra: I would tell them not to be afraid, as in all subjects we leave the University with a very basic knowledge, however through the years of experience we learn more. Right now there is a great opportunity in the city. These issues went from being the last and the most neglected in the works to occupy a priority place, taking into account that for citizens trees and green areas are increasingly essential scenarios within the city.

Last year, due to a precautionary measure for the felling of trees, the works of Avenue 68 in Bogota were paralyzed it for more than a month. The community is more and more aware of the trees and wildlife, which gives us a great opportunity but also the responsibility to train ourselves and respond to the expectations and demands regarding the execution of the technical activities we carry out.

So we close this interview, I hope you enjoy it. And for those who read us, don’t forget to comment and share.

Thank you all! See you in the next interview.

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