April 3, 2015

Congratulations 2014 Botany in Action Fellow, Dr. Anna Johnson!

by Lorren Kezmoh


Pursing graduate research of any kind is no small feat, that is why we want to congratulate Dr. Anna Johnson, one of our 2014 Botany in Action Fellows, on the successful completion and defense of her doctoral work! Dr. Johnson attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for graduate school, and was conducting her graduate research out of the Geography and Environmental Systems department at UMBC. Anna studied the diversity of plants found in urban environments, and how those plant communities vary from location to location within cities, given previous land uses and current human management; with the majority of her work centering on the ecology of vacant lots.

Dr. Johnson shared her thoughts with us on the completion of her dissertation below:

“I began my PhD training in the fall of 2009. Just last week, I finally defended my dissertation, on the ecology of vacant lots in Baltimore, Maryland. My graduate advisor reminded me many times over the last five and a half years to think about my PhD as a marathon, not a sprint. Now that I have completed both a PhD and a marathon, I am inclined to agree with him.There was a moment around mile 20 of the one and only marathon I ran when I realized that it hurt just as much to walk as to run, and that I might as well keep running since it would then be over sooner. I definitely hit that same “wall” around the equivalent of mile 20 of my PhD (that would be about a month before I turned in my dissertation to my committee…). I did, however, feel a real sense of accomplishment at the end of both events, like I had done something large and substantial that couldn’t be dismissed or taken away–just finishing was an accomplishment! 

DSC_0223Also for both the marathon and the PhD, the actual race was less of the point than the training leading up to the final event. By the time I got to my dissertation defense, I realized that there wasn’t all that much additional preparation to do since I had been doing it for years. Becoming an “expert” is a long, slow process. Maybe the point of a defense at the end is just to remind yourself that you actually were going somewhere after all, even if it was just to a somewhat arbitrary race or afternoon event.

I am happy to say that my dissertation defense became more of a celebration of my training than a final test or proof of competence. For the first time in my career, I was given an entire hour to prepare and present a presentation about my research. The presentation was scheduled as part of a seminar series in the engineering department at my university. My audience was made up of my lab-mates (all quite familiar with my work), members of my interdisciplinary geography department, the regular attendees of the engineering talks, plus my family and friends, which included my grandfather, parents, husband and even the Lieutenant I worked with at the women’s prison. 

Often, science can seem like a pile of facts that we just continue to add to. Given my mixed audience, I did my best to strike a balance between presenting data-driven research results and also placing them into a context that was comprehensible and interesting as a story. Thanks in large part to the Phipps Botany-in-Action program, I’ve actually given more presentations in the last year that are geared towards the general public than I have given presentations for strictly academic audiences. I think this really worked in my favor when I put together my defense seminar. By taking the extra time to try to make the presentation a pleasant experience for the audience, I think I ended up making it much more enjoyable for myself as well. I’ve always believed that good science can (and should) be accessible on some level to almost anyone. Now that I have my doctorate, I am happy to say that I still feel this way, and that I look forward to continuing to engage diverse audiences in the practice and outcomes of science throughout the rest of my career.”

If you would like to learn more about Anna’s research experiences, as well as her involvement with Phipps, head on over to her Botany in Action blog! And, congratulations again Dr. Johnson!

Photos provided by Dr. Anna Johnson and Science Education.

March 30, 2015

New Beginnings and Fond Farewells

by Lorren Kezmoh

20150316_153359Robins are returning by the dozen, the days are getting longer, and colorful patches of crocuses are beginning to sprout up from beneath the earth  – it’s becoming more and more apparent that spring has sprung in Pittsburgh, and especially here at Phipps. And it couldn’t have arrived at a better time! We happily welcomed the change of seasons this past month with the unveiling of our Spring Flower Show. With this year’s theme, “April Showers Bring May Flowers,” highlighting the importance of rain and its critical role in maintaining the ebb and flow of the natural environment. But, the Spring Flower Show wasn’t the only new addition to the conservatory this past March. In addition to the hundreds of colorful blossoms and fragrant bulbs, the conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes has also received it’s Living Building Challenge certificate, making it the first and only project to attain the planet’s highest sustainability certifications, and the installation of the conservatory’s brand new SEED Classroom, a self-sustaining modular classroom that was also built to meet the Living Building Challenge, is well underway.

But as we gladly bid adieu to the snowswept scenery of winter, we must also sadly say farewell to one of our most devoted science educators here at Phipps, Melissa Harding. Melissa, as many of you may or may not know, was a Science Education Specialist here at Phipps as well as the Science Education and Research department’s Online Outreach Coordinator. She not only created and taught school field trip programs, seasonal camps, and various other programs in the Science Education and Research department, but she also wrote and edited this very blog. Melissa was an extremely valuable asset to the conservatory and helped pave the way for science education as well as research here at Phipps. While we hate to say goodbye to one of our Phipps family members, we want to wish Melissa the very best as she begins her next chapter and with all of her future endeavors. Thank you again Melissa for all of your hard work and for all that you’ve done for the department and for Phipps over the past four years!

Photos taken by Science Education staff.

March 19, 2015

Engaging Parents in Science and Nature Education

by Melissa Harding


While we talk quite a bit in this space about engaging children in nature, there is one audience that we often forget: parents. This is especially true in informal education settings; adults are often lost to the tasks of caregiving and disengage from programs, even during ones in which they are specifically there to play a part. Creating programming that appeals to both children and their caretakers is a difficult task, but is an important one. Giving adults opportunities to engage in meaningful interactions with their children in nature not only helps children to create lasting memories that will foster a love of the natural world, but allows parents to connect with both nature and their child in a way that can be life-changing for them as well. Families with small children are increasing the time they spend in informal learning institutions and research suggests that adult interactions with children in these spaces positively impacts the experience. This means that there is a real need to better understand effective ways to engage the whole family together. At Phipps, we focus on two different ways of engaging adults; we give them experiences that help them to learn more about their child and how their child learns, and we give them the tools to support their child’s learning both at Phipps and at home.

This first approach is through our partnership with Carnegie Mellon University. We are working with researchers from CMU’s Cognitive Development Lab. They do this by playing games with their subjects that are designed to take show researchers how children think and how their thinking changes with development. While they watch their child participate, caregivers are given information on the study itself to help them understand more about the research question being investigated. This is a wonderful way for parents and children to engage with the research and, as the research questions often change quickly, there are many eager return customers.

Studies on the effectiveness of this approach have found that watching children participate in research studies increases adult awareness of child development as a science and that one-on-one conversations between adults and scientists increase adult understanding of the scientific process and their overall scientific literacy. Additionally, participants and viewers alike learn how science is applicable to their own lives, how research is conducted, what scientists look and act like, and how to answer tough questions using the scientific method.  It also can ignite the spark of lifelong science learning, one of the goals of effective science communication.

IMG_0213Another way that we engage parents is through family programming. Allowing adults to participate in our early childhood programs is a way that we can help to create connections to nature that they will carry back home. Our educators try to facilitate an interaction between family members, not dictate a classroom-type experience. We help parents to see the best ways to interact with their child outdoors; this includes teaching them a variety of fun observation exercises that young children enjoy, encouraging sensory experiences with plants and animals, and teaching respect for nature and appropriate boundaries. Our programs are not times for parents to check out and let our educators run the show, but really a time in which parents can get into the dirt with their kids and have fun. Often, parents learn just as many new things as their children and have been known to ask just as many good questions.

While we offer a number of adult education classes at Phipps, many young parents do not have the time to take them. By offering family programming, we are able to reach a very busy group of people and give them the tools to have meaningful outdoor experiences with their children. Research shows that spending time outdoors with a trusted adult creates an experience that children will remember long into adulthood; many naturalists cite these types of experiences as being influential in their lives and in their love of nature. We want to foster more of these experiences for all of our students and parents alike, hoping that together we can create a group of excited naturalists and scientists.

Looking for easy observation tools to incorporate into your programs or family time? Check out this post! Or check out our Backyard Connections series for ideas to connect with nature outdoors.

To learn more about increasing scientific literacy through museum research, check out this post!

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.

March 16, 2015

Check Out Our Upcoming Summer Camps!

by Melissa Harding


Winter is almost over and it’s time to sign up for summer camps!
Our new rack card is hot off the presses and we wanted to share our upcoming summer camps with you.
Click on the image to enlarge it.

Summer Camp 2015 2pg view

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

March 13, 2015

2015 High School Internship Opportunity: Horticulture, Sustainability and Service

by Melissa Harding


Will and Larissa weeding

“A previous intern had once told me this was one of the best experiences of her life. I hardly believed that would be the same for me, but after being here for two summers, I honestly feel the same way. Phipps has provided me with amazing opportunities and education as well as allowing me to meet all the great people that make Phipps what it really is.”
– Will, 2013 and 2014 intern

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 22nd through July 30th. All applicants must be at least 16 years of age by June 22 and have at least one year of school left. Students of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

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.


“More than teaching me about plants and the environmental problems, this internship has shown me a deeper meaning of the value of work and achievement. It has also taught me that doing things you never thought you could do and, most importantly doing then well, as best as you can, is one of the most rewarding feelings there is. I will forever be grateful for my time spent here at Phipps and will not forget all the amazing people – horticulturalists, chefs, students, staff and volunteers – that I met here. ”
– Larissa, 2013 and 2014 intern

All interested students should submit the following to be considered for employment:

Application materials are being accepted between February 1st – April 1st, and should be sent to:

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

For more information call 412/622-6915 ext. 3905 or email today!

Download and print a flier to help spread the word.

To learn more, check out previous blog posts about last year’s internship here. You can also learn about our first annual Youth Garden Summit here, and check out some pictures below:

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This program is made possible with support from the Grable Foundation and Pennsylvania’s Education Improvement Tax Credit Program.

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

March 11, 2015

Welcome Erica, Our 2015 Science Education and Research Intern!

by Melissa Harding


We are very proud to welcome our newest intern, Erica Jackson, who will be a part of the Phipps Science Education and Research team for the duration of 2015. Erica brings her wonderful experience and enthusiasm to our department and we are so excited to have her!

Erica Jackson is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, where is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies, a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Global Studies. She brings with her to Phipps her experience working with children of all ages through clubs at Pitt and volunteering abroad. She loves opportunities to combine her passion for nature with health and education, and believes strongly that everyone should be encouraged to learn from their surroundings. A native of Columbus, Ohio, she appreciates the benefits of protecting green spaces within cities and is thrilled to have the opportunity to further the efforts of Pittsburgh as it becomes more environmentally conscious.

Please join us in welcoming Erica!

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

March 10, 2015

Busting “EcoMyths”: BIA Fellow Jessi Turner Published Again!

by Melissa Harding


Our Botany in Action Fellows are always working to share their research with others! This time, Jessi Turner is again the author of a recently published piece at EcoMyth! Entitled “Myth: Why Medicine Doesn’t Grow on Trees“, Jessi’s article talks about the importance of medicinal plants and highlights her colleague Aurélie Jacquet’s work in ethonopharmacology (the study of how people use plants as traditional medicines). The article also looks at common weeds through the lens of their medicinal properties, including dandelion, willow and ginseng.

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. We are so excited for Jessi to have this great opportunity to share her work with a larger audience!

You can find Jessi’s article at EcoMyth! Additionally, check out this piece that Jessi wrote last year for the blog, Understanding the Human Connection the American Ginseng.

Learn more about Jessi and follow her research at her website !

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




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