Cynthia McArthur knew from a very young age that her passion was to know, discover and learn more about the things that surrounded her.
Female role models like Jane Goodall and Dr. Sylvia Earle inspired her to apply her love for nature to become a scientist and forest ranger. As a terrestrial ecologist, her work involves understanding connections between plants, animals, water and humans.
As National Partnership Coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service, McArthur leads programs across the country to inspire young women and girls to spend more time outdoors and seek careers in science.
McArthur is heavily involved in science projects and the improvement of life across the United States and has collaborated with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign for healthier kids across America. She has also partnered with musician Jack Johnson and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team to support the Every Kid in a Park initiative providing free access to federal lands and waters for four million 4th grade students.
Kelley O’Hara: Hi, I’m Kelley. Nice to meet you.
Cynthia McArthur: My name is Cynthia McArthur. I work for the United States Forest Service and I’m a scientist. I’m here to encourage young ladies and girls to become scientists.
KO: I love that. As a child, science was my favorite subject in school and I love the outdoors. It’s pretty cool. How did you get started and what made you want to do this profession?
CM: So I’m a Forest Ranger. When I was little, I loved to be outside. I didn’t want Barbies, so I had Smokey the Bear, he’s our mascot for the agency, so this is what I took with me everywhere. I told my mom I was going to grow up and be a forest ranger.
KO: Really? You knew from, like, very little?
CM: Yep, absolutely!
KO: What did you do to get into it? What did you do as a kid growing up?
CM: It’s a lot of science, it’s just a curiosity. It’s almost like being a detective, so spending time watching things and then asking questions, wondering, ‘why do some trees lose their leaves and others don’t?’ and ‘why do some animals hibernate or migrate?’ I ended up finding some excellent female mentors that pointed me toward summer programs and classes I could take, so I could be excited about it and also learn about it.
KO: Very cool. So what is your day-to-day now? What do you do on a normal day?
CM: I’ll tell you my best days! Because every job has office work.
KO: Okay, yeah. True, true!
CM: As a Forest Ranger, I spend a lot of time outside. Actually, we are going to take some of you guys up in our Hawaiian forest back here.
KO: Oh, awesome!
CM: So my job is to introduce people to nature, help them be safe, but also help them to ask their own questions and make their own discoveries. My favorite days are when I can take a horse and go into the mountains and we do a lot of monitoring to see what changes are happening. We will be looking for erosion, looking at the water quality, looking for endangered species, things like that.
KO: Awesome, that sounds great. I enjoy being outside, obviously my job allows me to do that, so it’s pretty cool to be in your happy place all the time and do what you love.
CM: I was thinking, since you’re a professional soccer player, there are some similarities to working with a forest service and being a professional athlete. Physical fitness and physical training is very important, and anticipation. You know, when you’re in a game, you’re anticipating, you’re learning about your opponents and studying them, it’s the same thing. When we’re out in the forest we might be around rattle snakes or cougars or bears, so it’s like staying alert.
KO: So you encounter those?
CM: Yeah, on regular bases. Fortunately Hawaii has no snakes.
KO: Yeah, I know! That’s what I love about Hawaii. So you just know how to handle the situations, you learn and educate yourself?
CM: Yeah, you always have to be careful. What I like to do is travel as a team, same as you guys have teams. With the U.S. Forest Service, we have elite firefighters and we’re trying for more women going into the world being wildlife firefighters. So they will receive the training, the physical requirements, and then they will work together to put out those fires and keep them safe.
KO: Very cool. Any advice to little girls that want to get into your profession?
CM: Go for it! Try a lot of different things. When I knew I liked science, I wasn’t sure what kind, like maybe it was medical, like a doctor, or maybe it was engineering. But go with what feels the best to you. You’re going to spend your whole career doing that.
KO: Do what you love.
CM: Exactly. And don’t be scared. I was one of only a few women that became forest rangers. Some women were intimidated when they hear there is no bathrooms, often, or no electricity, or things like that. You get used to it and there’s definitely other benefits.
KO: Yeah. You got to blaze your own trail. That’s awesome.
CM: And the last thing I would say about that is to have confidence in yourself. I know your campaign is #SheBelieves. That was the biggest thing for me; I needed to believe that I could be a female scientist and that people would respect me and that I could go into this profession and be successful and help encourage others.
KO: Very cool. Well we love that and that’s what we’re all about. Thank you so much for coming out. It’s great meeting you.
CM: I want you to have Smokey the Bear.
KO: Aw, thank you! He’ll travel with me.