I learned last month that Tyler’s Director of Horticulture Mike Karkowski had four undergraduate students join his crew as summer interns. Some students from Penn State Brandywine have served as interns or completed independent study projects at Tyler – Abbey Dufoe was a Communications Intern and completed a Google Earth project on the Tree Houses, Victoria Bolden was a Horticulture intern, Lauren Orner and Zanya Stephenson did a GPS/Google Earth project on the Green Trail, Aimee Ralph completed a project that integrated QR codes with the 2012 Tyler Plant Sale (see the video at the end of this post) – and these are my campus students from just the past two years! But I wanted to meet with a student interning this summer and hear more about what a typical student works on and learns during his/her time with Tyler.
It turns out that two of the summer interns are students at Penn State University (what a coincidence!), and Emily Pennock was kind enough to take the time to meet with me and share details of her summer experience. Emily is starting her sophomore year at the Penn State – University Park campus this fall, majoring in Plant Sciences with the Horticulture option. She is from Bryn Mawr and has known about Tyler Arboretum all of her life. Emily started her summer with many ideas and places where she wanted spend her time. She soon found out that with only one year of college under her belt, many places were not willing to give her a position with next-to-no experience. She knew that an unpaid internship would give her the experience that she needed to move forward in her discipline. When she saw on the Tyler website the posting of available internship positions, she applied and interviewed with Mike Karkowski. Immediately, she felt Mike was very welcoming and she knew she made the right decision of where to spend her summer!
Emily shared with me that although the interns are brought into one department, all of the interns learn about everything at the Arboretum. Even though Emily thought she would be getting an introduction just to plants and the Horticulture Department, she received a full introduction to public gardens, Tyler’s Education Department, and even had lunch with the other interns and Tyler’s Executive Director Rick Colbert. She said she was able to get her hands and feet into everything, and her range of experiences included learning how to use the Arboretum’s machinery and how take apart and clean a chainsaw.
I asked Emily what was one of the best parts of her internship. Without hesitation, she said, “working with the people at Tyler.” Emily said she felt accepted immediately by everyone and never felt that she was treated any differently being a student and an intern. She said her conversations with the Tyler staff while weeding and trimming made mundane and repetitive tasks educational and fun. Emily also appreciated being able to work with other volunteers that joined the Horticulture Department on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
I had to put on my “faculty member hat” and ask her what she felt would me most valuable to her studies back at Penn State. She said after spending so much time gardening and weeding with the Horticulture crew and volunteers, she has learned so many plant names and is much more familiar and confident with the identification characteristics of plants. Of course, getting a full internship experience beyond just plant identification is something she feels very fortunate to have received this summer. She definitely recommends that all students look at the internship possibilities at Tyler, during the summer and academic year (and I agree!).
In wrapping up our conversation, Emily said she really feels that Tyler “is a place for everybody,” that the gardens and trails and history and tree houses all provide something for everyone to enjoy. Emily also greatly appreciates how Tyler is very focused on interacting with its visitors. She said she is definitely coming back with her family, and I hope to see her again, too (maybe on the trails, one of Tyler’s places she personally enjoyed). Or, maybe I’ll have to look for her at her favorite spot at the Arboretum she found while weeding near the lilacs – a tree with a low, long branch that provides plenty of shade and a great spot to read a good book.
Below: Video of the QR Code project carried out by undergraduate researcher Aimee Ralph at the 2012 Tyler Arboretum Plant Sale.