October 21, 2014

Kate and Interns Attend the 2014 Youth Voices Conference!

by Melissa Harding


Last weekend, Kate Borger and 2014 summer high school interns, Dani and Alexis, attended the 2014 Youth Voices Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. The two-day conference, whose theme this year was “Teens Take on Food Justice”, brought together seven different groups of youth from all over the country to work together on the topic of food security. Hosted by the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Green Corps, the conference consisted of presentations by all participating youth, a keynote presentation from Ben Bebenroth, chef and founder of The Spice Companies, and a visioning session on the topic of “Food as a Unifier”. Additionally, participants were treated to tours of the Cleveland Botanic Garden, a Green Corps working vegetable garden, the largest urban garden in the country, and Cleveland’s historic food market. Alexis and Dani did a wonderful job representing Phipps and our internship program!

Participating groups included: Cleveland Botanical Garden Green Corps (Cleveland, OH), Oakland Leaf (Oakland, CA), Youth Farmers Leadership Program (Cleveland, OH), Chicago Botanical Garden Windy City Harvest (Chicago, IL), Phipps Conservatory (Pittsburgh, PA), Fresh Camp (Cleveland, OH), and University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (Chanhassen, MN). While each program is different in its approach and content, each one has had a valuable impact in the lives of its students.

We are excited to share our program with others and to learn from each other – working together, change is possible!

To see more photos from the conference, check out the slideshow below:

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To learn more about the summer internship program at Phipps,  click here.

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger.



October 20, 2014

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Jessi Turner

by Melissa Harding


If there is one segment of society that is often misunderstood, it is people who work in science fields. Public perception of scientists tends to lean towards lab coats, crazy hair and beakers full of chemicals, especially in the eyes of children.  In reality, most scientists are just regular people who want to make the world a better place through scientific discovery. The best way to dispel the myth that scientists are boring or crazy is to get to know them; the purpose of this segment is to talk with real scientists to ask them what they love about their jobs and why they think their work is fun and important.

It’s a new year with new scientists! For our next installment in this series, we sat down with BIA Fellow Jessica Turner. The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. The BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences. Jessi is in her second year as a BIA Fellow, researching the American Ginseng plant in West Virginia.

We interviewed Jessi about her passion for her work, her childhood playing outdoors and why studying plants is so great.

1. Introduce yourself and your work in 5 sentences or less. 

My name is Jessica B. Turner and I am a passionate outdoor-enthusiast, who loves creating art and traveling. I am also a scientist at West Virginia University, and I study THE most interesting plant in the world: American ginseng. Ginseng is harvested in Appalachia and then sold to China to be used for medicine, so this amazing plant is medicinally, culturally, and economically important on a global scale! Ginseng may not be around in the future…people overharvest it and surface mining is reducing the amount of forest where ginseng grows. As a scientist, I study how we can keep ginseng around for the future, so people can keep using and enjoying this beautiful plant!

2. Why did you become a scientist? 

As a kid, I was always in the mud, catching frogs, looking at insects, pressing wildflowers, and memorizing facts about animals. My parents had a big influence on my future occupation, as well. For every Christmas and birthday I received something science related, such as a microscope, chemistry kit, or a field guide. As a family, we would go to parks, zoos, conservatories, and arboretums together. My folks helped foster a curiosity in the world around me, and I knew that they considered no question to be stupid or silly… so I asked a lot of questions. And now, my job is to ask questions and answer them!

3. What part do plants play in your research? 

YES!!! Plants are great to study for many reasons. Plants are everywhere in every ecosystem! They are the bottom of the food chain, and they provide us with oxygen (pretty important stuff!). I study American ginseng, which is a fantastic plant that people all over the world care about. Since plants don’t move, you can study them over time (this is a GREAT reason to study plants). I study my plants by tagging them with an ID number, and measuring them every year. If the plants are growing, and producing a lot of seed, we know that is a good environment for the plant. If a plant is getting smaller over time, then the plant is probably not growing in the best area. With this simple scientific process, we are able to answer a lot of questions. I have hundreds of plants I visit and measure each year, this is how I collect my data!

4. What is the most exciting thing you have ever done at work?           

Being a scientist has given me so many extraordinary experiences. I have been able to pet rhinos, giraffes, and cheetahs, count tropical fish while doing reef surveys in Hawaii, and I have seen isolated parts of the Appalachian forest that are so beautiful it takes your breath away.  One of the coolest moments in field research happened when I was doing climate change work in Alaska.  I was dropped off at a field site to measure plants on the tundra.  As I looked around at the Brooks Range, felt the wind rushing over me, I realized this was the most isolated I had ever been in my entire life.  I was there with the plants, the mountains, and whatever large wildlife was lurking around in the willows.  It was a profound moment in my life, which I would not have experienced if it were not for my career path.

5. What skills do you use in your job? 

My job requires a whole bunch of skills, such as attention to detail, organization, etc. But my job also requires a healthy does of creativity, curiosity, and an excitement about learning. This job also requires an understanding that fieldwork is not always comfortable. We work long days in the summer, dealing with  a lot of insects and, often, less than ideal weather. I am not always outdoors, I also get to work with some cool computer programs… everything from web design, to photo editing, to statistical analysis. I feel like I have the best job, because I get paid to learn about the world, and in turn, teach others about how things work!

6. What is your favorite part of your job? 

I love working with people, and I love getting people excited about the world around them. One of the greatest perks is when I get to teach different age groups about science.   With kids, it is a blast coming up with different games or activities to teach certain concepts about biology. With the elderly, they are excited to learn, and they relate what they learn to their own personal experiences.   I have met some amazing people from all walks of life, and the natural world gives us a million ways to connect with anyone. I love sharing my passion and excitement about nature.

7. If you weren’t a scientist, what job would you choose? 

I would probably be an artist or a naturalist. As for being a naturalist, I love working with people and getting them interested in the complexities of nature. As for being an artist, I love creating and making things. There is something that is so satisfying about seeing the final product of something you created. That is one of the reasons I love science. I can ask a question, figure out how to answer that question, and then I get to answer it and explain it! At the end of it all, I can look at all of the work I did, and I can see the journey I took to get there. Science is like art, because you need to be flexible and creative.

8. Why is science education important?

Science explains how the world works. Learning about how to ask and answer questions logically can be an important framework for making educated decisions. Appreciating the natural world can connect people. For example, I could talk about ginseng to someone in Appalachia- who has never left his or her home county- or someone in Hong Kong who takes ginseng medicinally. This plant provides ‘common ground’ to two very different people with very different experiences. Science can help show us our similarities and bridge communities.


Jessi is an example of someone who loved being outside as a child and was inspired to a career in science because it. She has a passion for her work and telling everyone about what a great and important plant American Ginseng is!

To learn more about the importance of science communication, check out this post.

To learn more about Jessi’s work, check out her Follow the Fellows page on the Botany in Action Website.

The above photo was taken by Amanda Joy.

October 17, 2014

Little Sprouts Love Their Favorite Fruits!

by Melissa Harding


We had Little Sprouts popping up everywhere at Phipps today. It was our first Little Sprouts program of the fall, My Favorite Fruits, and we had a blast! In fact, this program was so fun that we ran two sessions of our popular series for campers ages 2-3 and their grown-ups in one morning. Campers learned about fruits using all five of their senses through stories, songs, movement and exploration.

To begin, campers played with lemon-scented salt dough and cloud dough in our sensory bins. Campers love the tactile experience of putting their hands in soft and interesting materials; adding natural essential oils makes them even more sensory!

After singing our welcome song together, campers met Sal the Sloth, our sloth puppet and resident fruit-lover. Sal helped campers explore their mystery boxes for pictures of fruit, which they used to play a fun matching game with him. Sal also introduced the campers to his friend the banana plant, whose job it is to grow bananas for us all to eat. Campers explored the banana plant with their senses.

Next, campers and their caregivers worked together in the circle to make apple trees; adults traced their Sprouts’ hands on cardboard and helped them to attach colored pom-pom apples to their trees. After craft, campers ate a snack of apples and bananas while Miss Hanna read The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall. Once snack was eaten, campers went to visit the banana in our Fruit and Spice Room and see a banana plant all grown up!

We all had such a fun time and can’t wait for next month’s Little Sprouts program!

Check out more photos from camp in the slideshow below:

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Our next Little Sprouts Singles program, My Desert Adventure, is scheduled for November 21, 9:30-10:30 am and 11:00 am-noon. If you would like to sign up your child for a future Little Sprouts program, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our season camp offerings, please visit our website. We hope to see you there!

The above pictures were taken by Science Education and Research staff and volunteers.

October 16, 2014

We Proudly Open the Newest CSL Art Exhibit: Photos from the 2014 Summer Internship!

by Melissa Harding

Group photo

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the new photo exhibit in the Center for Sustainable Landscapes is a story of the summer! Last week, the 2014 summer high school intern cohort returned to Phipps for a celebration of their internship during the opening reception for the gallery. The photos displayed represent the interns’ experience over the course of the summer and their unique perspectives. Joining the interns at the opening reception were their family and friends, as well as friends of the program Nancy Hanst and Alyce Amery Spencer, of Slow Food Pittsburgh, and gardening guru Doug Oster. It was so wonderful to have the interns back at Phipps again; we know that they have taken their experiences here with them into the school year!

Throughout the summer internship, local gardening columnist and author Doug Oster very kindly taught the interns basic principles of photography, from composition to lighting and everything in between. The interns had a wonderful time working with Doug and clearly they learned well, as the photos displayed in the exhibition are lovely indeed.

Check out the slideshow below to see all of the photos from the show:

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To read more about this past summer’s internship, including the first annual Youth Garden Summit, click here.

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger and the 2014 summer high school interns.

October 2, 2014

Amanda and Melissa Present at North American Association of Environmental Educators Conference!

by Melissa Harding


Science educators Amanda Joy and Melissa Harding are heading to Canada! They will both be presenting at the  North American Association of Environmental Educators (NAAEE) 2014 Annual Conference. NAAEE strives to promote excellence in environmental education throughout North America, as well as increasing the visibility and effectiveness of the profession. Melissa will be presenting “Online Outreach: Using Technology to Inspire a New Audience“, in which she will talk about how the Science Education and Research departments utilizes online blog content to reach diverse audiences. Amanda will be presenting “Who’s Teaching Who: Simultaneous Education for Scientists and the Public“, in which she will talk about how Phipps connects scientists to the public through the Botany in Action program.

The annual conference is always full of exciting workshops and informative sessions, as well as a whole slew of innovative keynote speakers. and both Melissa and Amanda are excited to learn more at the conference!

The above photo was taken by Science Education and Research staff.

October 1, 2014

Botany in Action Science Engagement Weekend

by Melissa Harding


This past weekend was our Botany in Action Science Engagement, a four-day event that brings our Botany in Action Fellows to Phipps for a series of workshops and public engagement opportunities. The goal of the Science Engagement is to help the Fellows become more skilled at interpreting their work for a public audience, including children, and to give museum visitors a chance to learn more about their research. Fellows spent their time at Phipps developing skills in public speaking, radio, field photography, photo editing, multimedia, and popular and creative writing for a public audience.

In addition to working with Phipps educators and polishing their skills, they also spent some time doing public outreach to students. Last Friday, the Fellows worked with local high school students as part of the Eco-Challenge. They shared their experiences in the field, as well as their love of science, with groups of students. Both students and teachers came away excited about the enthusiasm each Fellow has for his or her work. Many described it as the highlight of their day at Phipps!

 The Fellows also had a chance to work with family and adult audiences. Saturday morning, the Fellows set up informational tables throughout the Conservatory to display tools they use in the field and to talk more informally to visitors about their research. That night, they presented at “Peek Behind the Petals”, a lecture series for members to talk about their research and why science matters.

Check out images from both public events in the slideshow below!

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Additionally, the Fellows were interviewed by the Saturday Light Brigade, a family radio show, to talk about their work as a scientists and a significant plant they each encounter during their work. This will be complied into a short segment called “Herbs in Action” and will be aired throughout the fall.

Check out this space throughout the coming year to see profiles of each Fellow and their research. Read about past year’s Fellows at “Follow the Fellows”.

If you missed any of the public events this weekend or would like to learn more about the Fellows and their work, you can check out the Botany In Action blog!

The above photos were taken by Science Education Staff and volunteers.

September 29, 2014

High School Eco-Challenge Matches Students with Scientists

by Melissa Harding


Last week, over 150 middle and high school students from local schools came to Phipps to participate in the Eco-Challenge, a multidisciplinary environmental outreach event co-run by Phipps and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3. Students worked in teams of four to learn about sustainability over the course of three challenges. In the first, students learned about the benefits of upcycling, or reusing materials to create a product of higher value or quality than the original materials. Students used “trash”, donated by local salvage non-profit Construction Junction, to create temporary mosaics. In the next, they took a scavenger hunt around the Conservatory with the help of our wonderful, volunteer docents to learn about the ecology of the landscape and greenhouses. Finally, students got the chance to work with our visiting Botany in Action Fellows, interviewing them on their work and career paths.

This challenge is always a favorite every year; students love meeting real scientists and are always affected by the passion and excitement that our Fellows exude when they talk about their work.

See more photos from the day in the slideshow below:

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This event also serves as a kick-off for the Fairchild Challenge, a year-long environmental education program for both middle and high school students sponsored through the Fairchild Tropical and Botanic Gardens in Miami, Florida. In this multidisciplinary program, older students participate in a variety of sustainability-based “challenges” that focus on art, writing, music, and more. Schools choose to participate in one or all of seven challenges that take place over the course of the school year. At the end of the spring, monetary awards are given to the winning schools for use in their environmental science departments.

The above photos were taken by Science Education Staff and volunteers.


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