Rising 8th graders in Wolverine Pathways

Rising 8th-graders from the 2017 Matthaei-Nichols Wolverine Pathways program record data from their water quality assessment of Fleming Creek, which runs through the botanical gardens.

Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.

By Santiago Bukovsky-Reyes

A college education is often seen as an important stepping stone for future success. Unfortunately, access to a college education is not equal for all students. Preparing for college happens as early as middle and high school, making the ability for these schools to support their students dependent on available resources and staff.

In order to promote diversity and representation, the University of Michigan launched the Wolverine Pathways Program in 2015. The program seeks to bridge the gap between high school and college for students in Michigan’s underrepresented school districts.

Students participating in the program must attend middle or high school in the Detroit, Southfield, or Ypsilanti school districts. In its first years, the program accepted rising 8th and 11th-grade students. Now that Wolverine Pathways has been established for a couple of years and the first cohort of students has made it through the program, they will move forward accepting only rising 8th graders.

Acceptance into the program is very competitive. Applicants must meet specific GPA requirements, submit letters of recommendation and write a personal statement. Once accepted, the work begins as students participate in multiple extracurricular events, workshops, and classes housed in various departments within the University of Michigan covering a range of topics including science, math, art, and writing. In addition, students participate in standardized test preparation and receive guidance on the college application and financial aid application processes. By successfully completing the program and applying for and being admitted to U-M, students are awarded a four-year tuition scholarship.


In order to assist with the program and to contribute to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion, Matthaei-Nichols has coordinated with the Wolverine Pathways program to become a designated site for learning activities with the Wolverine Pathways scholars. This marks a busy time of year for our youth education office!

Our involvement with the Wolverine Pathways program is a full week of activities and lessons for the scholars. In July, rising 8th-grade students conduct a water-quality assessment activity in Fleming Creek (here on the botanical gardens property) and learn how to take measurements and record and interpret data. The rising 11th-grade students participate in field experiences meant to educate them on the impacts climate change can have on local ecosystems. Their activity culminates in a research assignment and an oral presentation on how a specific organism could be affected by climate change and how the change in one organism could have broader implications for the ecosystem.

Rising 11th-graders

Rising 11th-graders from the 2017 Matthaei-Nichols Wolverine Pathways program discussing how natural areas promote stewardship.

Cacao tree at Matthaei

The cacao tree in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens is just one of many plants that can be used to discuss the impacts of climate change on agriculture and ecosystems.

Because the botanical garden’s involvement in the Wolverine Pathways program is still in its early stages, my summer project focuses on ways we can improve and evaluate the program. And based on my experience as a graduate-student instructor for field-ecology courses with the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, I’ll be utilizing my knowledge looking at the activities for the rising 11th-graders.

My objectives for the summer with Wolverine Pathways are twofold: develop engaging activities that demonstrate the effect of climate change on Michigan ecosystems and develop and conduct an evaluation to determine if our involvement with Wolverine Pathways has been meeting the goals we have set for it. The evaluation will be looking at this year’s program but will provide a foundation for evaluating future editions of the program.

Developing an evaluation has led me to explore the My Environmental Education Evaluation Resource Assistant (MEERA). Developed by Michela Zint, a University of Michigan professor in environment and sustainability, the MEERA tool has been crucial in developing an evaluation method that can be adapted to meet future program needs as well.

Some of the questions my evaluation will seek to answer are: “Is the program having an impact on students’ understanding of climate change as it relates to ecosystems?” “Is the program improving participants’ attitude towards nature?” and “Is the program having an impact on student scientific communication skills?” I will also be evaluating program volunteer educators in order to determine if we are offering the proper level of support for them to conduct the program as well as solicit general feedback. Through evaluation of our participation in the Wolverine Pathways program, Matthaei-Nichols can also learn how our teaching methods are received which will help to improve our efforts toward other school and community visitors.

When it comes to the activities, I have been thinking intently about how to utilize the plant life we have available to us throughout the trails and the conservatory for an engaging lesson and activity that the students can complete. In order to do this, I have been walking the trails, learning plant identification and the history of the plants that we house in the conservatory. There are so many different plants to use for inspiration!

Gren roof gazebo at Matthaei

The green roof found on the Sam Graham Trees Trail at Matthaei Botanical Gardens is a great way to illustrate how human management in natural systems can help mitigate the effects of heavy rains and flooding.

Santiago Bukovsky-Reyes

The Wolverine Pathways program will take place from July 23 to 26 when we start leading day-long programs with the participants from the three school districts.

It’s been such a rewarding experience getting to develop activities that will inspire the next generation of science learners and environmentally conscious college students!


Santiago is an intern in the youth education department at Matthaei-Nichols. He is a master’s student in the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) focusing on conservation ecology. He obtained his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, with an emphasis on environmental chemistry. His current research interests are in the fields of agricultural and soil ecology and he is conducting a research thesis with Dr. Jennifer Blesh, assistant professor in SEAS, to study the effects of cover crop mixtures on soil health on farm fields in Washtenaw County. Santiago has always enjoyed investigating the world through the sciences and turning those discoveries into engaging and inspiring stories for others. He hopes to be able to combine his experience in the sciences to promote wonder and curiosity with the youth who visit the botanical gardens this summer! Santiago’s internship was made possible by a gift from Ian and Sally Bund that will help sustain and promote the current and future nature educational programming at Matthaei-Nichols.