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Caitlin Gipson

Putting Down Roots: Alumna takes on university position supporting campus canopy

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

As Oklahoma State University students and alumni walk by iconic campus landmarks like Theta Pond, Library Lawn and Old Central, little do they know all the trees surrounding them are just as well-maintained as those historic places.

In fact, University Arborist Caitlin Gipson could probably name every tree dotting the Stillwater campus if she had to.

As a fifth-generation OSU graduate, Gipson has always had immense pride and love for her alma mater. After graduating in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in natural resources ecology and management, she worked a few years as a science teacher before making a career change. Gipson officially started her role as university arborist in 2020.

Her uncle, Scott Hoffman, said she has always had a love for the environment and giving back to it.

“When she was a small girl to the adult she is now, Caitlin has always been conscious of what she is doing,” Hoffman said. “She is constantly thinking about how she can give back to the community. When she works on campus, she is passionate about making the right decisions for all the trees and making the campus look amazing.”

Gipson had to become certified as an official arborist before taking on her role. To become an ISA-certified arborist, she was required to pass the International Society Arboriculture Certified Arborist exam. She applied to the ISA using a combination of education and work experience. Despite the rigorous process, Gibson was approved and passed the exam on her first attempt.

“Caitlin was studying constantly to get her certification to be an official arborist,” Hoffman said. “I was just so impressed with her dedication to go through with it, and that is the way she is with everything.”

That dedication pays off, with OSU being named a Level II Arboretum through the ArbNet organization in Gipson’s tenure. As of December 2022, the campus forest is home to more than 4,000 trees made up of 164 different species.

Director of Landscape Services John Lee said Gipson is solely responsible for the health, promotion and growth of OSU’s urban forest. Her daily activities include scouting for pest management, ensuring a healthy canopy of all our trees and pruning or training growth of trees, plus all new tree plantings.

“Adding to our campus forest has been a huge task for us,” Gipson said. “With all the weather events in recent years, we try to plant trees in a strategic way. We can’t place any tree anywhere on campus. We always try to pick the right tree for the right place.”

Adding to the campus forest reinforces OSU’s mission as a land-grant university, effectively demonstrating dedication to excellence in growing a healthy campus forest and arboretum. Unfortunately, due to major weather events, soil compaction and other natural causes, the campus forest has suffered major losses the past few years. Gipson said approximately 100 trees were lost because of the ice storm in February 2023.

“We are always looking for resources and ways to take on the reforestation efforts and rebuild the campus forest,” Gipson said. “One way individuals can help in our reforestation efforts is through the Cowboy Family Tree Tribute Fund.”

The fund was created specifically for members of the Cowboy family to directly invest in our campus forest. Lee said with the unpredictable weather patterns in Stillwater, a fund like this is essential and allows Gibson to purchase and install new trees on campus.

“Having the funds immediately to respond to weather impacts is very important for Caitlin to do her job,” Lee said. “Procuring trees quickly and very high-quality specimen trees for our campus is difficult. We want the best for OSU’s campus, and this funding helps to replace those damaged or lost.”

In the past, many have asked to plant a tree in memory or honor of someone on campus. With extreme weather events and the growth in campus facilities, this can be a risky endeavor. The Tree Tribute funding method allows donors to invest in overall forest health while being able to recognize loved ones and donors at the Cowboy Family Tree Garden and Statue on the east side of Theta Pond.

“This is our campus — the Cowboy family’s backyard, so to speak,” Lee said. “When alumni or anyone who is a part of our family comes to campus, we want you to have shade. We want you to have a beautiful tree to have your picnic under or to take your photo with your family at graduation. We can only accomplish that with the supportive funding and efforts by people like Caitlin.”

Photos by: Gary Lawson

Story by: Jillian Remington | STATE Magazine

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