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Kathryn Gazal

Kathryn Gazal sits outside


I’m a forest economist; it’s like doing economics work but in the forestry setting. When I was doing my dissertation, I was looking at investment behaviors of private forest landowners. We have a lot of those in the US, and actually the majority of the forest lands here are owned by family-type land owners. I’ve always been interested in studying them because they own the majority of the forest lands here. So their decisions in how they want to manage the land will have implications in the availability of timber products. 

I guess I’m more of a social scientist because I’m more into studying private landowners. They’re not like a tree; social beings are a lot more difficult to study and predict. Most of my research has been trying to predict the behavior of these land owners, but it’s not that easy. 

An interesting fact that I’ve found about landowners is they are not just interested in managing for wood. People think if you have a forest you’re going to harvest logs, but even in West Virginia that’s not really the main reason for owning a forest property. It’s more about the aesthetics or wanting to pass it on to the next generation.

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

I would probably still end up working at another university. Both of my parents are professors; most of my siblings are also in academia. It wasn’t forced on us, but it was the way we were brought up and the environment we grew up in. I always knew, even when I was little, that’s what I was going to do - I’m going to work in a university somewhere.

Moment you knew what you wanted to study:

My dad is also in forestry, so that influenced my decision even from a younger age. I’m the only one of my siblings who went into forestry. We’re all girls and I’m not saying I’m his favorite, but I was really close to him growing up. I kind of followed in his footsteps; I went to the same university he did.

Moment you knew your current role was right for you:

At first it wasn’t easy teaching. I didn’t grow up here in the states; I have an accent and I struggled at first. But, I like that relationship you build with students and knowing that you’re reaching them. A lot of my students are in the course for a prerequisite. So I always make it a point to kind of convince them that we use economics in everyday life; it’s interesting and has some practical applications. I also like the research part. I can’t imagine being anywhere else other than academia.

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

My daughter and my husband and I love to travel. We’ve been to a lot of places, but we fell in love with Italy. Rome is nice, but I think the Tuscany region is really nice because of the rolling hills and it’s laid back lifestyle and, of course, the food. Even if you just get pasta from a street vendor, it’s the best!

Favorite part of social distancing:

Not having to commute everyday to work. I live in Bridgeport, so that’s a 45-minute drive one way. I think I was more productive because I didn’t have to spend 45 minutes one way just in my car. 

We got a dog last year for my daughter. It was really hard when we first got the puppy because I had to go to work. After a year, we got another puppy. Suddenly we became dog people. So that was my favorite: spending time with my daughter and being with the dogs.

Least favorite part of social distancing:

I missed the students. I hadn’t seen anyone since I left last March. I was teaching online, but it’s asynchronous, so I didn’t really get to see the students even on camera.

Just for Fun

Favorite book: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Favorite movie/TV show: Dead Poets Society

Favorite Spotify playlist/band/song: 80's, Pop

Favorite local restaurant: Provence

Favorite local activity: Traveling West Virginia