Humboldt State University

People on the Ground: Alumni Profiles

Heidi Lakics

Heidi Lakics took a job planting trees in the city because of her passion for the environment. Little did she suspect that her profession would lead to her being featured on the popular television program MythBusters.

Lakics ('06) is the Planting Manager at Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) in San Francisco, a non-profit organization that improves urban environments by planting trees. Lakics' job is all about planting trees in unusual locations, such as a city sidewalk, the blacktop surrounding an elementary school or the slope of a hill in a densely populated neighborhood.

Lakics's work with FUF led to her appearance as a tree expert on the Discovery Channel's television show Mythbusters. "My job has a lot of emotional rewards, so this experience was icing on the cake. It was great to be recognized," says Lakics.

The episode, which originally aired Nov. 4, 2009, explored a myth about an exploding Christmas tree that had frozen after a leak in a liquid nitrogen processing plant. To conduct their experiment, the show's interns, dubbed "myth-terns," dumped hundreds of gallons of liquid nitrogen over a pine tree until its core temperature reached 330 degrees Fahrenheit. In the end, the tree failed to explode even after being hit with several rounds of buckshot.

Lakics was contacted both for her expertise – apparently tree cells are surrounded by air space to allow for expanding water as temperatures plummet – but also to receive a donation from the show on the FUF's behalf. MythBusters apparently thought it would be wise to plant a few trees after trying to explode one on national television.

The media coverage was exciting, but it hasn't distracted Lakics from her everyday duties, rooted in her commitment to sustainability. After graduating from HSU with a degree in environmental science, Lakics was able to turn her love for Humboldt and the environment into a job. First she joined AmeriCorps and served two years in the Watershed Stewards Project, then spent a year working for the Fortuna branch of the California Conservation Corps. "I wasn't ready to leave Humboldt," says Lakics.

During her second year with AmeriCorps she began searching for a permanent job. When she saw the want ad for the FUF, it seemed like her dream job. "As soon as I saw the posting, I knew it was for me. It was exactly what I was hoping to be doing with my life," says Lakics. She has since been with the conservation group for two years and has become a certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture.

HSU provided Lakics with the skills she now uses in her career. "In my communications with the public, I use a lot of what I learned in the classes for my Environmental Ethics minor," says Lakics. She also uses her experience as volunteer to motivate others. "It's easier to motivate people to plant trees in the rain when you've spent many hours doing it yourself. My semester as president of the HSU Energy Independence Fund taught me how to organize and rally troops behind a cause."

Lakics is not the only alumna working for FUF. Of the 11 other staff members, the company's Tree Care Coordinator, Heather Ellison, is also an HSU grad.

Lakics believes that anyone can make a difference by following their passion. "Planting one tree on a block can be the beginning of a forest if you take with the people around you and share the seeds of knowledge. Sometimes a small effort can result in a big change."