May 01 2011


John Steelman
John Steelman took an indirect route to success.  He attended four different high schools before deciding to drop out. Nine years later, in May 2011, the North Carolina native graduated from UM with high honors. Steelman’s studies in forestry have led him to focus on one of the most pressing problems of our time.

“Hydrology is going to be one of the most important issues in the next 100 years, especially in arid areas where we have over-tapped our resources,” Steelman says.

Steelman followed a meandering path to UM.

“I moved away from home at the end of my junior year of high school and tried to complete my last year while living with a bandmate. I dropped out in January of 2002. Shortly afterward, I started cooking for a living,” Steelman recalls.  He later earned his GED.

A love of the outdoors led him to hike most of the Appalachian Trail and the John Muir Trail. Then, he was off to Ecuador and Peru, where he studied Spanish for a month. He soon set out backpacking through Central America and Mexico.

“When I finished the backpacking I was 23 and decided I needed to go to school,” Steelman says. “I found Missoula had what I was looking for in outdoor opportunities and education. I moved here and cooked in restaurants for a year, then applied to UM.”

Steelman was accepted to UM on probationary status. He worked hard both in his studies and in his restaurant jobs.
“I worked my fingers to the bones the first couple years,” Steelman reflected during his senior year. “I didn’t have that many scholarship offers. You have to prove yourself.”

Steelman received multiple scholarship his senior year.

“I had a little more time for me, which is really nice,” he says.

Steelman spent part of his time with the UM chapter of the Society of American Foresters. He traveled to the society’s national conference twice. His association with the society expanded his horizons and shaped his interest in research and sharing knowledge. He plans to work for a couple of years, then head to graduate school.

Steelman learned many valuable lessons at UM. He’s more confident in the natural environment. He has more balance in his life, which led him to pick up the guitar again. And, he has a deeper understanding of the impact of generosity.

“As a hiker, I hitchhiked at times and depended on other people to help me,” Steelman says. “People who provided scholarships for me did something similar. I think it’s fantastic. I definitely will pay it forward.”

To learn more about scholarships, and how you can make a scholarship gift, contact Korla McAlpine.