Recently, I found myself thinking nostalgically about my time with the North Carolina Botanical Garden (NCBG). From last May to last October, I worked from 8am to 5pm as an assistant to the Horticulture Team at the garden. This meant weeding, working with volunteers, watering, learning about the native flora and fauna of North Carolina (and the greater Southeast region of the United States), as well as having great conversations with people who are passionate around plants. I absolutely loved working at the garden, but even so I’ve found that after college it’s been a bit difficult to keep up with friends that I’ve made along the way (this is also complicated by the fact that I’m living out of the country and do not have internet). My nostalgia prompted me to contact two of my fellow intern peers, Will Franke and Rachel Glaeser, to see what they have been up to post-NCBG.
For a bit of background on the intern working environment at NCBG last summer, Will and I were the two interns in the Horticulture Department, while Rachel worked as an intern for the neighboring Conservation Department. Will and I split our time between the staff members of the Hort department, but were also allocated to projects requiring the combined labor of all of the garden’s interns (re-making pathways and digging trenches are a couple that come to mind). After nearly a year of no communication, I was really curious to hear what both Will and Rachel were a part of in the world.
Will is currently in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is studying at one of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment’s Field Sites. The Thailand Field Site is an exchange program through UNC-Chapel Hill based at the Joint Graduate School for Environment and Energy (JGSEE) at King Mongkut’s University of Technology at Thonburi (KMUTT). Will is studying Energy and the Environment in Bangkok while working on his Environmental Science degree at UNC (fun fact–Will played the sitar at NCBG’s 2010 Fall Plant Sale). He’s taking classes ranging from “Life Cycle Assessment” to “Environmental Chemistry” as well as a course called “Energy from Biomass” while also working on his capstone project to complete the Environmental Science major. At his time of writing, Will was deciding between researching the energy management of a new sports stadium to maximize energy efficiency or analyzing the economic and environmental viability of a new energy from biomass site for his capstone project. Both sound very interesting and are designed to provide not only a hands-on environmental science project for Will, but a practical service to the Bangkok community. His Environmental Science major at UNC has “prepared [him] for the rigorous study of the environment by providing a solid foundation in chemistry, biology, and physics as well as a solid framework for mathematical analysis and environmental problem solving.” I can’t wait to hear how his capstone turns out and where he’ll go next.
On the other hand, Rachel is continuing her work with plants, but in an entirely different ecosystem. As a field technician in the Entomology Department at the University of California at Davis in the Williams Lab, Rachel’s days are similar to the garden days in that she spends long hours in the field learning about plants. However, instead of traveling around “North Carolina’s most interesting ecosystems” and learning about “current research and monitoring strategies for protecting rare plants,” Rachel is now traveling from farm to farm from Sacramento to San Diego and areas in-between to understand the important relationship between native wildflowers and bees in agricultural landscapes. At each site, she follows protocol on observing and collecting bees while quantifying available floral resources and collecting and identifying beneficial insects as well as pests. On her work, Rachel adds that she’s “never realized just how ecologically complex a few feet of poppies, lupines, and sunflowers could be.” The area in California where Rachel is working is “a huge patchwork of industrial, conventional, large-scale farms and has little to no native habitat or natural-area buffer remaining.” (For more on her actual project and to learn more about the fascinating research the Williams Lab is a part of, please see the Williams Lab page).
This type of practical science–where the results can be applied and used by not only scientists but by policy makers and the general public–is the kind of science that continues to inspire me …to be a scientist? a farmer? a health care provider? all of the above?
I’m extremely proud of the work my former intern peers are doing in different parts of the world. It’s inspiring for me to learn about what Rachel and Will are doing and to know that the garden was a formative part of our educational experiences. On how the garden contributed to his current studies, Will noted that “the garden prepared me by strengthening my appreciation and commitment to the environment and the natural world.” For Rachel, the garden “was crucial in shaping my current path and interest in plant-insect interactions.” For me, the garden pushed me to think seriously about the prospect of becoming a small farmer–in fact, I have a job (which makes my mom happy) with an incredible small farm in North Carolina starting in April of 2012.
Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.