When the first days of spring roll around, the arboretum is a perfect place to rest, relax and enjoy the day in natural surroundings. But for a core group of a dozen student interns, it’s also a place to promote environmental awareness through outreach.
The Arboretum Ambassadors, sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum, allows undergraduates with an interest in botany, conservation, and community service, to participate in a year-long internship.
“Davis students can get involved in finding a way to help with some of the [current] environmental problems. Its purpose is to make students environmental advocates,” said Katrina Castaneda, a senior environmental policy, analysis and planning major and the ambassadors’ student coordinator. “We have a wide variety of majors – biology, psychology, political science; but we don’t really care about the content expertise, just about a passion for the environment.”
Currently in its first pilot year, the program is divided into three teams – habitat, outreach and discovery – each of which focus on a particular angle and target audience within the ambassadors’ overall mission of environmentalism. According to Castaneda, grouping interns into teams of four allows individual students to focus on their personal strengths.
“During fall quarter we focused on leadership training … instead of focusing on weaknesses, we focused on where people were the strongest – adaptability, harmony, activity – and developed things like team decision-making skills, project plans, and timelines,” Castaneda said.
For instance, the habitat team promotes arboretum restoration and maintenance through planting projects and wildlife conservation efforts through service events planned and executed by team members.
“It’s an opportunity for students to get some hands on work in the arboretum,” said David Gonzalez, arboretum ambassador working within the habitat team.
Gonzalez, a sophomore evolution, ecology and biodiversity major, has planned a series of ethno-botany tours in the spring, designed to educate students about the connection between California natives and their cultural use of indigenous plants.
Interns belonging to the outreach team focus primarily on publicity. A centerpiece of the outreach agenda consists of the Green Pack, a program – modeled after the popular Aggie Pack – designed to increase student participation and network with campus organizations in the ambassadors’ projects.
“[Outreach] promotes the arboretum and its events – they table, work on brochures, and are at career fairs,” said Paige Norberg, a sophomore environmental policy, analysis and planning major.
Finally, the discovery team focuses on leadership development among middle school and high school age groups. Through their MY EARTH initiative (Mentoring Youth to Environmental Action and Responsibility for Tomorrow’s Habitat), the Arboretum Ambassadors work with students from underserved communities as well as 4-H, a program sponsored by the Department of Agriculture designed to engage youth through experiential learning in citizenship, leadership and life skills.
“We help [students] with environmental service specifically, like helping them restore an empty field in their town and turn it into a garden,” said Norberg, a member of the team.
Coming up is the team’s Discovery Day, a children’s event to be held in conjunction with Picnic Day.
“We have nature-themed carnival games, and kid’s activities, like different art projects, like eco-pots and fish prints; we also have environmental groups doing demonstrations, from people working with things like water conservation and Project Compost,” Norberg said.
Discovery Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Wyatt Pavilion deck, adjacent to the arboretum.
With the second quarter of their pilot year nearly behind them, ambassadors reflect positively on their progress and are excited about the work ahead.
“During fall, it was a lot of training, we worked as a group and got to know each other – everybody has different ideas about what we can do, and it’s exciting to be in that kind of atmosphere,” Gonzalez said. “And progressively, we have become more independent, with each of us working on individual projects.”
“[Arboretum Ambassadors] is very close to my heart … we’ve accomplished so much already setting it up; I’ve seen myself develop as a leader, all the ambassadors have great relationships, and we get to change in the community,” Castaneda added.
Arboretum Ambassadors receive an optional 1 to 3 units, or may intern on a volunteer basis. Students can find more information e-mail Katrina Castaneda at email@example.com.
ANDRE LEE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org