Archive for February, 2013

February 27, 2013

High School Internship Opportunity: Horticulture, Sustainability and Service

by Melissa Harding

Interns 039

Do you know any students that would make strong and eager candidates for an extraordinary summer learning experience?

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is now accepting applications from highly motivated high school students with an interest in the well-being of the planet to serve as summer interns in our paid internship program which will run from June 24th through August 1st. To be considered for this internship, students must be at least 16 years of age by June 24th and must be eligible for the free or reduced-cost school lunch program.

Our high school internship provides hands-on experience working with our science education and horticulture staff, along with classes, service projects, and field trips that expose students to a wide range of “green” concepts and career options.

More information and a Phipps employment application and a supplemental application form, along with a flyer suitable for posting can be downloaded from the Phipps website.

In addition to the two application forms, applicants are required to submit:
• A brief essay explaining their interest in the Phipps internship
• A letter of recommendation from an adult non-relative

Application materials are being accepted now through April 1st, and should be sent to:

Kate Borger, High School Program Coordinator
Phipps Conservatory
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Phipps’ mission is to inspire and educate all with the beauty and importance of plants; to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research; and to celebrate its historic glasshouse.

To learn more, check out previous blog posts about last year’s internship here, here, and here and some pictures from it below:

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

February 26, 2013

My Green, Dream Prom: High School Challenge #4 in Fairchild Challenge at Phipps

by Melissa Harding

Winning school, Moon Area High School, submitted a promotional song to use at their event.

During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, 144 high school students from 7 area schools redesigned their senior prom to have as low an environmental impact as possible. Each school was asked to submit a plan for an updated, sustainable prom; an additional option was to submit a song, skit or dance with a green message to promote the event. Students worked in groups to create comprehensive plans that included provisions for food, clothing, decoration, tickets, transportation, lighting and more. The ideas submitted were fabulous; from suggestions for vintage prom outfits to tiki torch lighting, these revised prom ideas were both innovative and accessible.

The winning school, Moon Area High School,  used a community perspective, since their prom is truly a neighborhood event. They suggested involving parents and local businesses for food and decoration donations, as well as using the local nature center for the venue. Since many students need to participate in fundraising to afford their tickets, Moon proposed both selling stainless steel water bottles and allowing students to bring recyclable items to get a discounted tickets. Both of these options help to reduce waste and encourage reusing and recycling. Another recommendation was to print tickets on biodegradable paper with embedded seeds that can be planted after prom or to make paperless tickets available for students to download onto their phones. Since many students purchase expensive formal wear for the occasion, this entry suggested rewarding those students who wear vintage clothes or who make their own dresses out of reused materials. Regarding jewelry, “Opt for something vintage, maybe your mom’s gorgeous diamond earrings or grandma’s classy pearls”. This entry proposes crowing a “Recycle Queen” in addition to the traditional prom royalty; all crowns will be reused, of course.

The second place entry, from Shaler Area High School, was equally innovative. They propose the theme of “Capulet’s Garden”, filling the room with real and crafted flowers to achieve a “magical garden feeling”. Shaler submitted a diorama with samples of these flowers, as well as other room decorations, to illustrate their ideas to the judges. They propose purchasing flowers from a local, sustainable florist in the Pittsburgh with a small carbon footprint and crafting additional ones from recycled water bottles, brightly painted to disguise their origins. In addition to eco-friendly decor, they also recommend similarly carbon-neutral entertainment. Instead of a DJ, acoustic music from local bands will provide a low-key, romantic feel while using no energy at all. To give students “a once in a lifetime meal”, Shaler turned to a local restaurant to provide local, healthy food options from its rooftop garden. Described as filled with “plenty of choices and tastes that can satisfy even the pickiest eater”, it is a great idea to get students trying foods that they would not normally experience.

North Allegheny Senior High School, the third place winner, chose not to create a new prom for their school, but rather to create a guide to creating green events that anyone could use, “whether you are a conscientious consumer of “green” products or just a high school kid wanting to have a good time at prom”. Full of short articles on various topics, this entry includes tips on decorating for less, hair and makeup, clothes, food, tableware and transportation. For decorations, they suggests using potted plants instead of cut flowers and old newspaper pieces instead of confetti. For balloons, they suggests using latex, as it is compostable. They also suggest donating left over decorations to local nursing homes after the event. One of the only groups to address hair and makeup, this entry recommends avoiding toxic chemicals and animal testing in beauty products. On the subject of transportation, students suggest carpooling or hybrid limos. The more students in a vehicle, the better!

Though there could only be three winners in the competition, many local students will be winners this spring when they attend the greenest proms in the area!


February 25, 2013

March Inspire Speaker Series: Food for Big Thoughts

by Melissa Harding



“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”
– First Lady Michelle Obama at the Let’s Move! launch, February, 2010

“Students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn and earn in a better one.” Stephen Ritz

We have long anticipated this edition of our Inspire Speakers Series. It’s all about FOOD! That is, it’s about healthy food and healthy living in our homes, schools, businesses, and communities. Everyone – including parents, elected officials at all levels of government, schools, health care professionals, nonprofit and community-based organizations, and businesses – has a role to play in creating healthy and sustainable places by supporting access to affordable and nutritious food.

Access to healthy, affordable food in our schools: 95% of children attend school every day. Many children consume at least half of their daily calories at school. Food served at school may be the only food that many children eat regularly. More than 31 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program, and more than 12 million children participate in the School Breakfast Program. Serving healthy, nutritious food is more important than ever!

Access to healthy, affordable food in our communities: More than 23 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income urban and rural neighborhoods that are considered “food deserts” – communities that are more than a mile away from a supermarket with limited access to affordable, nutritious food. A recent 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that an estimated 49.1 million people, including 16.7 million children, lived in households that experienced food insecurity multiple times throughout the year.

National guest Stephen Ritz and his students have had a huge impact on their local community of the South Bronx, including:

  • Growing enough healthy, local produce to feed 450 South Bronx students
  • Funding and creating over 2,200 youth jobs with a living wage
  • Increasing school attendance for his students from 40% to 93%
  • Rooting the school’s green initiatives in literacy and common core standards in order to help all students graduate high school and be fully prepared to enter college and pursue post-secondary training

Stephen and his students will share their adventures and explain how we can make changes in the places where we live, work, learn and play. Check out his TED Talk to see what’s in store. And check out some photos of the Green Bronx Machine in action here. Learn more about Let’s Move! Pittsburgh, a collaborative of organizations, parents, and caregivers in southwestern Pennsylvania committed to leading children in our region toward a healthier future. Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to curb childhood obesity through raised awareness about the benefits of healthy foods, decreased screen time and increased physical activity for children, the collaboration led by Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens aims to put solutions to this national problem locally.

Learn more about the speakers at

WHEN: Thursday, March 14th from 5:30 – 8 p.m.

WHERE: Special Events Hall, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, One Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Registration Information:

  • GBA Member Fee: $25.00
  • Member of Partner Organization Fee (Phipps Conservatory or Tri-State Area School Study Council): $25.00
  • Non-member Fee: $45.00
  • Student Fee: $25.00


For group rates and scholarship information, please contact Jenna Cramer.

February 22, 2013

Creating Successful Adults: Nurturing Imagination with Nature

by Melissa Harding


There is a certain way that young children think, in which they use logic to create conclusions without fully understanding all the evidence before them. Recently This American Life, the WBZZ Chicago weekly radio program, investigated this phenomenon in a program called “Kid LogicDr. Paul Harris, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Harvard, has been researching child logic for years. One such experiment involves wishing; up to about age 6 or 7, many young children believe that they can wish something into being. In this study, a researcher showed children an empty box and asked them to imagine either a puppy or a monster in the box. After which, the researcher asked the children if they really believed that there was a puppy or a monster in the box; the children, of course, said no. Soon after, the researcher left the room and watched the children from outside. Those children who were told to imagine a puppy went over to the box and peeked inside; those asked to imagine a monster edged away from the box. A child’s imagination is a powerful thing.

Harris has also found that children not only imagine and act out fanciful possibilities they have never experienced, like being a knight in battle, but they also utilize their imaginations to think about real events and things they’ve never seen, like death or germs. This is necessary for children to learn about people and events they don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world; it also allows young children to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up. Children use imagination to figure out confusing and fearful situations, making sense of a complex world.


According to Harris, human beings have a “gift for fantasy, which shows itself at a very early age and then continues to make substantial contributions to our intellectual and emotional development throughout our lives”. In other words, having a good imagination is an important quality in successful adults. Imagination allow us to think about alternative scenarios and avoid making the same mistake twice. It also helps in making moral judgements and in language comprehension. When adults listen to a narrative, they create a mental image of the situation being described; brains often retains this mental image rather than specific words. These adult abilities are learned in childhood during imaginative play.

One way to engage children in imaginative development is through nature play. In 2006 a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better at stimulating creativity and imagination in children than indoor schools. In this study, 58 percent of children who were in nature invented new games; just 16 percent of the indoor children did so. One theory for this is “loose parts”, the idea that if there are more loose parts present, play is more creative. Loose parts are easily manipulated items, such as sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves; in nature, these parts are unlimited in number. Children naturally know what to do with these items; making swords, having tea parties, building fairy houses, and constructing forts are intuitive activities. Simply put, the natural world is the ideal place for children to hone their imaginations and creative abilities.


Nature play can happen anywhere outside – in a backyard or in a forest, alone or with others. While it is important for children to spend time outdoors with trusted adults, it also important for them to be unsupervised (or at least feel like they are).  Letting children guide themselves and play alone without the presence of adults is often called “free play”. Free play is rich in competency-building experiences and opportunities for discovery. It also stimulates imagination and creative social play. As Thoreau once wrote, “We need a tonic of wildness”; let your child be free outdoors and you may be surprised at how his creativity flourishes.

Need more? Here are some other ways that parents can encourage imaginative development:
1. Model imagination for your children: Play pretend, build forts and be silly! Your kids will love it.
2. Encourage fantasy characters: Santa, the Easter Bunny and imaginary friends are all figures that nurture the imagination.
3. Read works of fiction and fantasy: This exposes children to new worlds, characters, places, time periods and situations to which they might not otherwise be exposed.
4. Play dress-up and pretend:
Encourage your child to act out situations that they have not experienced through play.
5. Provide open-ended toys: Much like loose parts, toys like dolls, buckets and balls allow room for creative play.
6. Get messy: Cede a little chaos for the greater good!

To learn more about Dr. Paul Harris’s research, check out this article on children and imagination or this one about autism and imagination in the Harvard School of Education magazine. Also this piece from the Wall Street Journal.

To listen to the full episode of Kid Logic, check out the This American Life’s archives.

The above photos were taken by and copyrighted to Molly Steinwald.

February 19, 2013

Follow the Fellows: Cleaning Contaminated Soils with Plants

by Melissa Harding


The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed to both excellent research and educational outreach. Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, 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.

Current BIA Fellows are engaged in local research in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland and research abroad in Nepal, Thailand, India, and Brazil. Their work covers topics ranging from the role of green roof plants in urban storm water management and the effects of plant invasion on a rare woodland butterfly to identification of plants used by healers for treatment of dementia.

February’s featured fellow is George Meindl. George is PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh and a California native.  He studies the movement of toxic heavy metals through ecosystems. George studies plants that are known to accumulate heavy metals and therefore can be used to clean polluted soils. Unfortunately, these metal-accumulating plants may negatively affect animals that eat them or their pollen. George’s research could be used to find a way to clean contaminated soils without negatively affecting wildlife.

Read an update on George’s research and life as a scientist at the Botany In Action website!

You can follow George and all of the BIA as they study plants across the US and across the world at the Follow the Fellows section of our Botany In Action website.

The following Botany In Action update was written by Amanda Joy, Botany in Action Fellowship coordinator.

The above image was provided by George Meindl.

February 18, 2013

Having a Desert Ed-Venture

by Melissa Harding


Exploring the desert can be hard work; the heat, wind and oppressive sun can stymie even the most stalwart adventures. Luckily for our campers, we only traveled to the desert room of the Conservatory. In our most recent Ed-Venture, Deserts and Desserts, campers learned about the special adaptations that desert plants use to survive in such harsh conditions through art projects, games and exploration.

Of course, before exploring an area, it is always important to learn more about it. Campers learned that deserts only get up to ten inches of rain a year. They also learned that deserts are not abandoned waste lands, but are teeming with plants and animals; each of these is specially adapted to the desert. While animals can move around to elements, plants are unable to do so and must be adapted in different ways than animals. Campers created their very own super plants using sand-filled paints, painting wildly creative organisms that could surely survive any climate. Each camper then shared her creation with the class, pointing out the adaptations she added to her painting. One plant even came with its own ice cream machine!


To learn how their creations matched up to real desert plants, campers went on a scavenger hunt in the Conservatory. They were able to see that while real plants don’t have ice cream makers, they do make their own food. In the same way, while a plant may not actually have a sword to fight off predators, many desert plants have spines that serve a similar purpose. Through this fun activity, campers learned that the green parts of the plants are the parts that make food, spines are really leaves and that waxy leaves keep plants from losing water.

After all of this exploring, campers were getting hungry. They went back to the classroom to make their desert-themed desserts, yogurt parfaits and chocolate fruit desserts. To make the parfaits, campers crumbled graham crackers over a bowl of yogurt. They then placed green grapes and pomegranate arils on the surface to create a desert scene. These were a big hit; no one could get enough grapes! Campers also made chocolate fruit desserts by halving a banana down the middle and placing chocolate chips in the middle like a sandwich. They then wrapped them in foil and placed them on the griddle to melt the chocolate.


While they waited for their bananas to cook, campers planted succulent gardens to take home. They mixed sand and soil in pots and everyone chose several plants for their garden. After they planted and watered their choices, they topped their pots with colored pebbles to both keep the plants in place and make their gardens look finished. By this time, the chocolate was melted on the bananas; campers all ate their treats right out of the foil! Everyone went home with full bellies and beautiful gardens!

If program sounds fun, check out our next Evening Ed-Venture, Creepy Night Crawlers; in this exciting program, campers learn all about the nocturnal creatures that call the Conservatory their home. To register, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442 etx. 3925.

Check out some more pictures in the slide show below!

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The above pictures were all taken by our wonderful volunteer, Pam Russell.

February 15, 2013

BIA Fellow Honored for Outstanding Photography

by Melissa Harding

Copyright Aurélie Jacquet

Botany in Action Fellow, Aurelie Jacquet, was recently honored by Photographer’s Forum magazine as a finalist in their Annual College and High School Photography Contest. Photographer’s Forum, an award-winning quarterly publication dedicated to quality photography in the United States and Canada, strives to facilitate communication and publication experience among emerging professionals. Aurelie’s photography is inspired by her field studies at home and abroad. As an ethnopharmacologist and self-taught photographer, she uses photography to communicate both scientific and cultural knowledge.

Aurelie is currently pursuing a Ph.D at Purdue University and studying how plants used in traditional medicine can help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Her studies have taken her to Nepal to interview traditional healers, local people and collect plant samples. You can follow Aurelie and all of the BIA fellows as they study plants across the US and across the world at the Follow the Fellows section of our Botany In Action website.

You can see more of Aurelie’s beautiful photographs at her website.

The above photo of a Nepalese girl was Aurelie’s winning entry.


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