Director’s Note: A Season of Change

Karen Oberhauser passes the microphone for audience questions during her Winter Enrichment lecture

Karen Oberhauser passes the microphone for audience questions during her Winter Enrichment lecture

October and early November always feel to me like a grand finale after the lushness of summer. It’s bittersweet to bid goodbye to the insects, birds, and plants that have enriched our lives over the past several months, but nice to be forced to slow down a bit with cooler temps and shorter days.

The new season will bring some big changes – and perhaps some slowing down – for me. I’m going to retire this month, with my last day at the Arboretum on November 17. This has been a hard personal decision; I believe strongly in the Arboretum mission and have been honored to be part of this amazing team of staff, volunteers, and community members over the past six-plus years. Working at the birthplace of the scientific field of ecological restoration and the home of a historic restored prairie culminates my career focused on conservation research and education.

I’ve been a high school science teacher, studied habitat and insect conservation, founded an almost 30-year-old citizen science project and a K–12 outreach program, taught and been inspired by hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, and been involved in too many college committees and programs to count. Monarch butterflies have been the glue binding many of these activities together, and I have a deep appreciation and love for this inspiring and amazing insect that provides nurturing connections to nature for so many people.

When I came to the Arboretum in 2017, I thought a lot about the switch from organism-focused to a place-based conservation work. The land that is the Arboretum, and the many ways that staff across all units promote a land ethic, also provide nurturing connections to the natural world – benefiting both people and the organisms with which we share the Earth.

New solar panels at Visitor Center
New solar panels at Visitor Center (Photo: Ian Aley)

While my colleagues and the Arboretum as a place will fuel my best memories of the final years of my career, some specific achievements – truly team accomplishments – stand out. We’ve worked to make Arboretum buildings and outdoor work more sustainable, with new solar panels, a complete rehaul of the lighting system, needed maintenance to preserve Depression-era buildings, more battery powered vehicles and tools, and sustainable workday and building practices. We’ve created a graduate-student fellowship program that strengthens connections with campus and supports research that will inform restoration and land management practices for decades to come. We’ve hired new staff, increasing our capacity to address land care, research, and education challenges. We built a strong participatory science program that engages the broader community in research on dragonflies, bumble bees, monarch butterflies, water quality, birds, and more. We’ve focused on equity and inclusion for staff (present and future), visitors, volunteers, and people who take part in our many program opportunities – work that will continue long after I’ve retired. And we made it through a global pandemic that sent all of us home while record numbers of people came to the Arboretum seeking the solace and healing powers of the land.

I am sticking around the neighborhood and look forward to continued friendships as I move from being part of the staff to joining all of you in an amazing network of community support for the Arboretum. I hope that our paths continue to cross often.

More will be shared with the entire Arboretum community as interim plans and the search for a new director unfold. Associate Director Josh Goldman will be our interim administrative director until this person has been hired. In the meantime, enjoy nature’s seasonal grand finale, unfolding before our eyes! In my completely unbiased opinion, there is no better place to enjoy this than the Arboretum.

—Karen Oberhauser, director