Veteran Turns Arborist Turns Student

By Sarah Mann, College of Letters & Science (used with permission)

John Sanborn

John Sanborn

John Sanborn takes a while to introduce himself. He’s a former Marine turned arborist and small business owner, as well as a non-traditional UWM student with a Conservation and Environmental Science major and minors in Geography and Geographic Information Systems. He’s a tree-mapper, storm-chaser, landscape-restorer and dog-owning dad.
Sanborn took a circuitous route to UWM even though he started in the same city. He grew up on the northwest side and attended Milwaukee Vincent’s magnet school. In 1983, the economy was sluggish so he enlisted in the Marine Corps and spent the next nine years in the Armed Forces. It was in the Marines that he discovered his civilian career.

“While I was in (the Marines), I started taking down trees for people because I had access to all of the equipment. When I got out, I just sort of fell into it,” Sanborn said. After a back injury cut his military career short, Sanborn ended up working for a lawn-care company, running a crew for tree care and removal. He didn’t stay long.

“Once their idea of what the science is and what I was learning were parting ways, I decided I had to leave, so I started my own business,” Sanborn said. “That was in ’99, 2000, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Sanborn’s Services, LLC.”

Sanborn’s Services does a bit of everything – tree pruning and removal are bread-and-butter operations, but Sanborn also does consulting work along with woodlot preservation and restoration. For several years before he married, he contracted with local companies across the country to clean up trees damaged by hurricanes and blizzards. His most memorable job took him to northern California where he was on a crew that trimmed a 200-foot giant redwood.

Eventually, Sanborn’s interest in woodlot restoration led him to UWM and the Conservation and Environmental Science program. He especially wanted to explore the ecology of woods, rivers and the fl oodplains between them. Those areas often see damage from invasive species like garlic mustard or buckthorn.

“It’s several years of just controlling invasive species until you can introduce new material,” Sanborn explained. “A problem with the buckthorn is that it binds all of the nitrogen up into the canopy, so there’s nothing growing underneath. You walk into some of the places and it looks like something out of ‘The Hobbit.’ You’re expecting a giant spider to come after you.”

When he’s not working, Sanborn is in the classroom or the GIS lab. He’s completed his Geography and GIS minors and is thinking of adding a math minor as well. He’s hoping to graduate in the fall of 2016, but enjoys his time on campus for the moment. He credits the dedication of the UWM professors.

“There are a lot of really good teachers here,” he said. “And being prior military, I was expecting some sort of (pushback) – I didn’t see any of that. As long as somebody’s willing to learn, I haven’t seeing anyone who’s not willing to give their time.”