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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Museum Education Interns in the Learning by Leading Program speak out

Updated Arboretum signage educates visitors. (ALEXA FONTANILLA / AGGIE)

Signage, interpretive exhibits and engagement

The Arboretum and Public Garden hosts 100 interns each year. If this figure sounds big, the Museum Education Learning by Leading team has a lot to share on the matter. The Arboretum and Public Garden are essential pieces of the UC Davis campus, and their staff members are an essential piece of the UC Davis community. Beginning in the fall of this academic year, the Museum Education Internship program began working to cultivate team spirit and create educational signage.

“The idea really came about because my job at the Arboretum is to interpret our collection for the public,” said Maya Makker, the Museum Education and Interpretative manager for the Arboretum and Public Garden.

Makker oversees all of the current Museum Education interns and is their go-to resource for inspiration and guidance. She explained that the Arboretum and Public Garden hosts regular events for the public, but recognized the need for educational engagement between those events.

“That’s why they work on educational signage, because their objective is to bring attention to the stories that would otherwise go unnoticed,” Makker said.

Exposing the rich history and stories that undergird the Arboretum and Public Garden is one imperative of the Museum Education team. However, the team also worries about addressing the needs of very regular subscribers.

“There are people who walk the Arboretum everyday and have been for 30 years,” Makker said. “My goal with these signs is to really invigorate the space for those people. I think what’s really exciting about these projects that my students are working on is that they’re creating an opportunity for visitor engagement for visitors that are very, very regular. Rarely does a regular museum have the same person come in everyday. But because our museum is changing […] I wanted to create that educational connection.”

The changes to which Makker alludes are unique to the space that the Arboretum and Public Garden inhabits. Being an outdoor, environmental museum, visitors enter at disparate locations and may not see the extent of the collections which are sometimes in flux. Thus, the current Museum Education interns are working to create temporary signage to address more temporal issues and to engage visitors who may have seen the permanent signs innumerable times. They are hoping to make the ever-changing beauty of the natural world so present in the Arboretum and Public Garden accessible to the public of all ages.

“What I believe is, a museum can spark something in someone that they never would have had the chance to see in themselves,” Makker said. “Our team’s goal is to take this content that may seem like it’s not relevant to their lives and make it accessible to them.”

Makker’s interns speak passionately about the potential of the public connecting with the space, but also about the unique opportunities this internship, situated within the Learning by Leading program, has provided to them.

“We’ve only been together as a team for one quarter,” said Ryan Gooch, a fourth-year international agricultural development major and a Museum Education Internship co-coordinator. “So we had those 10 weeks to start from being complete strangers who had never done anything involving signage ever, and now we’re kind of a coherent team that does things together and accomplishes tasks, and that’s kind of amazing.”

Gooch, along with Ella Groff, a third-year sustainable environmental design major, are the co-coordinators, and thus a peer leaders to the other Museum Education interns. He and Groff divide and direct the groups on their signage projects. Gooch recognizes how special it is to be a leader within a brand new project.

“We really have to rely on our own experiences being leaders in other places in our lives and bring it here,” Gooch said. “Whereas other people can draw directly on how their other internships have been lead in the past […] it’s a challenge but it also opens it up to the creativity portion. We’re not changing anything, we’re just doing it the way we want to do it.”

Groff notes the unique challenges that the Arboretum and Public Garden provide that speak to her personally.

“What I like to think about is the social sustainability of the Arboretum because for it to keep getting funding, for all these projects to be done, people need to come there,” Groff said. “With the signs we’re hoping to have everyone learn something when they come to the Arboretum.”

The Museum Education Internship gives students the opportunity to address real-world concerns in a professional setting and with professional capacities. Makker aims to give interns the skills to succeed in museum education jobs in their professional lives. The Arboretum and Public Garden itself offers a fertile location upon which students can learn about its history and its biology. Museum Education intern in the Learning by Leading program Anne Brunetto put words to the pertinent nature of her position.

The education about how to be a better educator and how to best make things available to the public is applicable anywhere,” Brunetto said. “It just creates this really positive space where […] there are a lot of opportunities for you to take charge with something.”

To recognize the hard work of the Arboretum and Public Garden’s many staff members and employees as well as to enjoy its biological diversity, Gooch and Groff recommend “Walk with Warren.” Warren is the superintendent emeritus of the Arboretum and Public Garden. His monthly tours allow the layperson a glimpse into the environmental wonder that is at once a permanent and changing feature of the Arboretum and Public Gardens.

Gooch and Groff also encourage students and community members to stop by the Arboretum Headquarters at Valley Oak Cottage, get a map and try to walk the whole stretch. Once there, visitors can see the student intern spotlights which acknowledge the hard work of students on the space, as well as the signage on the waterway. In the works are interactive experiences around the pollinator exhibits in the spring.

For those students interested in more than a visit, Makker nods toward the “ladder of engagement” which allows students to work as volunteers, interns or staff members with the Arboretum and Public Gardens. Those interested can look to the Learning by Leading page for opportunities.

Gooch and Groff, if through their enthusiastic words alone, merit increased attention to the internship programs and the rich history of the Arboretum and Public Garden.

Everytime I’m there, I appreciate being able to work there more and more,” Groff said. “When you meet the people who work at the Arboretum, and they all know so much, and you start to learn about the history of how it was created […] it’s just an amazing history that you have to appreciate.”

Gooch implores people to find out what the Arboretum and Public Garden is for them, because there is something for everyone.

“The Arboretum is something different for everybody, so you just need to go find out what it is for you,” Gooch said. “For one person it can be a wealth of botany and plant science, and for another person it can just be a place to meditate and enjoy nature.”


Written by: Stella Sappington — features@theaggie.org


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