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Steve Chhin

Steve Chhin


I’m trying to promote sustainable management of our forests. I’m focused on bionutrition, monitoring their health and making sure they’re not impacted by changes in environment like climate change and managing disturbance agents like fires and insect outbreaks.

I do a lot of research where I sample tree rings so you look at the growth history of a tree and relate it to climate data. You can sample them and get a sense of what affected them climatically. I found that in some cases when you have a lot of snow in a region it can have a negative impact on growth. Those larger trees are exposed more to snow and ice; they’re sensitive. So they might win the race and become big, but they end up having to deal with being the tallest things there.

If you weren’t working at WVU, what’s the most likely alternative?

I like the work I do, and I’m naturally an outside person. So I think working in a natural resource field is really ideal. If I weren’t doing this here at the university, I think the next thing would be working at a federal agency because I think usually they’re more willing to hire folks with Ph.D. backgrounds. Also with the Forest Service, I kind of get the sense of the day-to-day activities. I like their approach to basic and applied research as well. I like to understand how forests function but be able to manage it, too.

Moment you knew what you wanted to study?

I kind of took the convoluted route, so I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in my first year at university. I went to the University of Winnipeg which is more of a liberal arts institution, so they force you to take all types of courses. In your first year they don’t let you declare your major yet. I took so many courses and I had it in my mind that I would just be a chemistry major, but after the first year I realized it seemed too narrowly focused. Then, I discovered biology and I got the full system perspective of how things function and studying all different types of life. That got me more attracted to the forestry field, and I think part of it is that I got some research experience as a senior. I had never really considered forestry as something I’d go into. I thought forests were very messy, disorderly places. I wanted to focus on hard science. As I worked on research projects, I started to notice that there is a pattern. It was very eye-opening.

Moment you knew what your current role was right for you?

So obviously, we’re expected to do a lot and wear a lot of different hats. We’re doing research, teaching, funding our research, writing grants and developing our reputation. I feel really comfortable in my position when I’m out there doing field research at a very scenic national or state forest and I’m thinking, “Wow! I get paid to do this.” When I’m doing recruiting events with prospective students, I always tell them the best job you can have is the job you’re almost willing to do for free.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I'm a bit of a foodie so I like eating foods from different cultures, especially from southeast Asian cultures. That’s the type of food we have in my household. I’d like to be in a place with a lot of different restaurant options. In addition to southeast Asian cuisine, I like pretty much any other culture. It’s the tourist side of me. When I visited San Francisco, you could spend the whole time going from one restaurant to another.

What's your favorite dish?

My favorite southeast Asian dish is banh xeo. It’s like a crepe. It’s almost like a really large flat taco with turmeric in the breading. And I like pho. It’s a beef noodle soup, and it’s easier to spell and relate to.

Favorite part of social distancing?

I’ve always worried that with my busy lifestyle that I probably didn’t have much time to spend with my two sons. My oldest son is 15 and my younger son is 12 years old. There have been times in my career I felt I should spend more time with them. The silver lining of the pandemic has been just having more opportunities to hang out with my sons. My oldest is into music, and I’m not as great a musician as he is but I appreciate music. My younger son is more athletic, and I’ve spent a lot of time golfing with him.

Least favorite part of social distancing?

I miss interacting and working with colleagues. We’d usually pick each other's brains when we were trying to sort things out, so it was nice to talk it through. It’s kind of hard to do that.

One of the past Employee Spotlights mentioned that teaching isn’t as energizing in a Zoom session, and I feel kind of the same way. Sometimes people are just uncomfortable to have their web camera on; presenting to a faceless class is a little challenging that way.

My wife and I met in Canada, so our family is still there. It’s so hard to go there obviously for safety reasons. We’re hoping to get to visit them when things are safer. It’s been close to a year already, and we usually like to visit at least a couple times a year. So it’s been hard.

Just for Fun

Favorite hobby: How I Play Golf by Tiger Woods

Favorite movie/tv show: Away

Favorite Spotify playlist/band/song: The Crash Test Dummies

Favorite local restaurant: Pho Hung, Saigon Pho

Favorite local activity: Golfing, Fishing