Land Care Report: Summer Students

Three members of land care staff hold buckets filled with seed collected in Curtis Prairie.

Eliana Cook, Chelsea Camp, and Balin Magee hold buckets of seed collected in Curtis Prairie (Photo: Susan Day)

Each summer, the Arboretum natural areas and Longenecker Horticultural Gardens benefit from college students who work alongside the land care staff. In 2023, two students were hired as restoration and horticultural assistants from May through August. A third college student, an intern that was part of the Natural Resource Foundation’s (NRF) Diversity in Conservation Program, also joined us from June through August. These students provided much-needed assistance during the busy growing season, helping with invasive species removal and harvesting native seed in the natural areas, weeding and spreading mulch in Longenecker, and much more.

As a research center at UW–Madison, it is important for us to enhance the overall educational experience of the students we hire. The land care staff makes it a priority to teach the students about various aspects of restoration and horticulture, including plant identification, specimen maintenance, and equipment use. We hope to help spark their interest in and better prepare them for future careers in conservation, horticulture, and related fields.

I recently caught up with the three students to ask them what they enjoyed and learned during their summer working with us at the Arboretum.

Alex Orn, a third-year undergraduate studying conservation biology and environmental studies, said “Working at the Arboretum was such a breath of fresh air compared to previous jobs I’ve had. I loved working in the natural areas as well as Longenecker Horticultural Gardens. I learned something new almost every day. Whether it be a new skill, plant ID, or simply the history of the Arboretum, the land care team was always happy to teach the student workers something new.”

Two land care staff members walk through Curtis Prairie with buckets of seed they collected.
Sam Morin and Michael Hansen walk through Curtis Prairie with buckets of native plant seed. (Photo: Susan Day)

Sam Morin, a sophomore studying zoology, said “While working at the Arboretum, I had the opportunity to learn more about different plants, animals, and conservation practices, and how all of them impact our ecosystems on a local and global scale. I was lucky enough to put these conservation practices to use alongside Arboretum staff members that are friendly, welcoming, and passionate about what they do. It was an experience that I’ll never forget!”

Eliana Cook is a junior majoring in conservation biology with a certificate in environmental studies, and she was our NRF Diversity in Conservation intern. She said “My experience on the land care team at the Arboretum opened my perspective to interests I never would have otherwise explored. I’ve really loved the variety of landscapes that I got to work in doing habitat restoration, and I have a new passion for native plants and identification. Even though it seems you can’t restore much as just one person, going out and cutting down invasive brush and hand pulling invasive plants is so rewarding over time when you’re able to see the progress you’ve made.”

The students had a positive learning experience working at the Arboretum this summer. And they gave our land care work a boost during a season when we really need it. The relationship truly is mutually beneficial, and it’s always fun to work with students. We are extremely grateful to Alex, Sam, and Eliana for all their assistance, and we wish them all the best as they finish their degrees and eventually start down their career paths.

—Michael Hansen, land care manager