What is your year, major, and where are you from?
I’m a second year horticulture major from Thief River Falls, Minnesota. I moved to Georgia my senior year of high school. I spent a year working on different farms, then I came to school here.
Did you take a gap year?
It was a gap semester. I took classes at the University of North Georgia, and I was working on an organic farm at that time. I fell in love with doing that, so then I worked on a llama farm in Tennessee for awhile, and then a goat farm in South Carolina.
Did you ever picture yourself working on farms?
No, not at all — I was interested in a lot of different things. I wanted to be a vet for a long time, so that’s how I started working on these different animal farms. I was kind of all over the place — I wanted to be a fashion designer, then doctor and vet were always in the back of my mind. Then I started working on this vegetable farm, and I was like, ‘plants are so cool.’ I fell in love with horticulture, and at UGA I’ve fallen in love with it even more.
How did you hear about this new internship position and why were you interested in working in this position?
I wasn’t even aware the campus had an arboretum, but I took a landscape and woody plant identification class last semester, and so that kind of changed my life and I really became obsessed with trees after that class. The professor that taught the course is also the horticulture interim department head. He approached me about midway through the semester. He was saying ‘Hey, I finally have the ability to redo the arboretum, I want to create a position with the Office of Sustainability, what are you doing for work next semester?’ I was lucky that it kind of fell into my lap. This position was created because Dr. [Tim] Smalley, the interim department head, has been wanting to do work on the arboretum for a long time. It hasn’t been touched for basically 18 years since it was developed.
What is an arboretum?
An arboretum is a garden or collection of trees. UGA’s arboretum is really special because we don’t have one specific place necessarily — our arboretum is set up across the entire campus. We have really historic, beautiful trees on different parts of our campus. Our arboretum is split up into walks. The trees that we have featured on our walks are really beautiful or unique specimens that we have, or just trees that we feel that people should know about. It’s a lot of different species — there’s a lot of natives and a lot of trees that aren’t native but still important to the campus or very beautiful.
What does your job entail on a day-to-day basis?
Right now, since the arboretum hasn’t been touched in 18 years, we’re trying to figure out what needs to be done to modernize it. We’re trying to develop a new website. We want to use a different system where it’s easier for people to walk from tree to tree on a self-guided tour. I’m going to be taking pictures of all the trees once they get their foliage in the spring. I also have worked with Dr. [Ron] Balthazar’s Environmental English class. I helped develop some curriculum with him. The class is focused on people’s relationship with trees. I picked 25 trees I felt that the students would have a connection to, and they’re really beautiful or historic trees on North Campus. I assigned a tree to each student and took the whole class on walks where I walked them to each tree.
What is your favorite tree?
I love all the trees on campus. We have a really nice Deodar cedar on North Campus, right behind Old College. That tree is really beautiful, it’s really magnificent-looking. There’s a really great ginkgo tree in front of Old College, and that one is really beautiful in the fall. It’s the huge, bright yellow one in the fall. There’s just way too many trees — I could literally talk to you for hours about all the trees I liked on campus.
Did you already know about trees before starting in this position?
At the beginning of fall semester last year, I couldn’t tell you the difference between an oak and a maple, but then I took the identification course with Dr. Smalley. You kind of walk through life, before you take these identification courses, and you just pass by these trees, but once you learn about them and you know their history, meaning and impact on the environment, it totally changes. In a way, it changes your world and opens your eyes to other things.
How can people become more aware of and mindful of the trees on campus?
Just learning about the trees changes your life. Learning about the trees and their significance, it makes you care about them a lot more. What I’m hoping with our arboretum too is that people learn about the trees in our arboretum, but that inspires them to learn about trees elsewhere and inspires them to preserve those trees and recognize the impact of trees everywhere.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability is protecting and caring for what we have right now, and preserving it for future generations. Sustainability doesn’t even have to do with the environment, it has to do with the community. It’s all about creating spaces and environments that can be available to people for years to come. By highlighting these trees and educating people on these trees, it’s going to make them want to preserve them and sustain them for years and year, and to keep them alive on our campus.
If you’re interested in checking out UGA’s arboretum for yourself, here’s a walking tour you can take to find the most notable trees on campus: http://hort.caes.uga.edu/research/uga-arboretum-walking-tour-of-trees.html.
Written by Jordan Meaker