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Haley Snyder standing in the atrium of the first floor of the Zeanah Engineering Building

Haley Snyder Balances Nature, Service, and Career

Her junior year, Haley Snyder was asked a typical interview question and gave a very atypical response.

“They were asking about workplace safety,” she recalled. “I told them about the time I wanted to ensure workplace safety, so twelve of us proactively chased off a bear.”

After making such a bold impression, it’s no wonder that Snyder landed the internship at International Paper. The company is also welcoming her back as a full-time research engineer. After she graduates from UT this week, Snyder will be heading to Rome, GA, to work at a mill that produces liner board, the paper material used to make cardboard.

While she is unlikely to encounter bears on the production floor, Snyder will probably never leave the woods far behind. The chemical engineer is also an Eagle Scout and a backpacking guide—and she can hew a wood cookie off a log with a bowsaw in under 30 seconds.

A Pioneering Eagle Scout

Snyder’s parents strongly encouraged their children to tinker, both at home and at the family’s farm in Harriman, TN.

“My dad, an electrical engineer, has kind of been nudging me towards engineering since I could walk,” she said. “Through high school, I would always be working on new farm equipment and machinery.”

Snyder’s family was also heavily engaged in the outdoors. Snyder’s father, an Eagle Scout, volunteered in her brother’s Boy Scouts of America (BSA) troop. While the BSA did not allow female troops at the time, Snyder was able to get her outdoor fix through a middle school backpacking trip and a coed BSA Venturing Crew.

“It’s always been important to me to balance being inside for school and work with getting outside and being in nature,” she said. “Getting out and staying active is really important, especially when you’re going into a field that may not promote as much activity over time.”

Maintaining that balance became especially important in high school, when Snyder decided to become a chemical engineer—a job that tends to involve a lot of time indoors.

Fortunately, in 2019, the BSA opened their Scouts BSA program to girls and young women from ages 11 to 17. Snyder was thrilled to join her brother as an official Scout, but at 17 years old, she was in for a very accelerated BSA experience.

The Eagle Scout rank is the highest and rarest rank in the BSA; to achieve it, scouts must earn at least 21 merit badges and complete a service project of their own design. In the organization’s first century, only four percent of scouts achieved the rank.

In 2021, during her first year at UT, Snyder became one of the nation’s inaugural 1,000 female Eagle Scouts.

Making Time for the Outdoors

Throughout her engineering program, Snyder continued to balance coursework with volunteer work. In addition to her membership to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), she rose to a leadership role in the all-gender service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and earned a gold service medallion from UT’s Jones Center for Leadership and Service.

She also kept prioritizing outdoor experiences, working as a ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico—the site of the bear-related workplace safety incident.

Her senior year, Snyder served as the UT Forestry Club’s Timber Sports Vice President. She placed third in the women’s bow saw competition at the 2024 Association of Southern Forestry Clubs Conclave, sawing a cookie off a log in 29.95 seconds.

“Within engineering programs, there’s never going to be time for other things you enjoy or care about,” Snyder said. “You have to make that time. And sure, getting that A is important. But sometimes it’s important to accept a B in class and go on a walk. I think it’s important to get out there and remember what nature has to offer you.”

Moving Forward from Failure

Snyder, who laughs as she remembers helping chase off a bear and sleeping on a frozen Minnesotan lake, faced one challenge during college that she discusses with no trace of humor.

While she had planned to spend her whole junior year at the co-op with International Paper, she needed to return to campus in the spring to retake a class.

“I fully flopped that class the first time I took it,” she said. “And yeah, that was a little discouraging, but I knew from my internship that I really wanted to do work in manufacturing, to make something and see results of what I’m doing every day. And the easiest way to get there was to just retake that class and do better the next time.”

Ultimately, retaking the class did not delay Snyder’s graduation or affect her job at International Paper. She is excited to get involved in every level of the mill’s operations, from line troubleshooting and machine repairs to capital estimation and financial analysis.

She hopes that learning about her experience will help other engineering Vols keep looking ahead after setbacks.

“Failing at something sucks. It’s not fun,” she said. “But it hasn’t stopped me. Just because you fail something doesn’t mean you can’t do awesome and great things down the road.”


Izzie Gall (865-974-7203,