By Alyssa Abaloz
Internships at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum enrich the communities they serve. Those students who find themselves as interns at MBGNA are given the freedom and opportunity to pursue a summer project that, in turn, enriches their own experiences.
For former intern Daniela Fernández Méndez Jiménez, this manifested as an investigation of Matthaei-Nichols membership program.
“It was a deep dive into what we offer, the website, staff perspectives, and what our membership level distribution looked like. I also reached out to a lot of other botanical gardens for benchmarking reasons. I talked to them about their membership programs, what they went through, and improvements and struggles they had. Based on all that information, I created a report that gave possible solutions for MBGNA moving forward.” Fernández explained. 

Cover page from The Daniela Report

Known by staff as “The Daniela Report”, this investigation will be key as the development team assesses the membership program.
When Fernández started her internship in 2021, it was largely remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I didn’t get to see the display gardens and conservatory until my internship started,” Fernández said. “Even though my internship was virtual, I was able to take in-person opportunities with other departments. I helped volunteers make at-home kits for an education event and helped with a staff-wide weeding day–I think I treasured those experiences more than I would if I was entirely in-person. But, I also appreciated the flexibility of the virtual [internship].”


Fernández is a second year Masters student at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS). Her exceptional work in her remote summer internship led to student-staff positions in the following fall and winter terms.
“A big question that came out of my report was ‘what do our members think?’ After my work over the summer, we started working on a survey for our members, which we did not finish until October,” Fernández continued.
This survey went out to over 4,000 members in October 2021, garnering 700 responses from which to gather data. Topics ranged from membership-specific questions, such as comfort with the 2020 rollout of digital membership cards, to broader MBGNA questions, like how often members visit the Arb. This survey, as well as “The Daniela Report,” is now being used as an internal tool throughout the organization for idea generation and decision making.
IMG_2765.jpg A Gros Michel banana. Credit_ Katie Stannard small

A photo of Daniela amongst her houseplants, taken for the 2021 staff directory. Photo: Daniela Fernández Méndez Jiménez.

“I was drawn to apply to the internship program because I really liked what MBGNA was doing. I wanted to bring in what I learned in my first year of grad school, but also I wanted to learn how to communicate that effectively. It was also exciting to know that MBGNA was connected to the University [of Michigan]. It was also so close to where I lived, and working somewhere where I was a part of the community was important to me,” Fernández said when asked what drew her to the Nature Academy Internship program.

Daniela and Digital Marketing Intern Alyssa Abaloz collaborate on the 2021 survey in the membership office. Photo: Alyssa Abaloz.

Fernández hopes to enter the environmental field in some capacity once her graduate program is finished. Originally from Mexico, Fernández grew up moving around the United States and Europe, eventually settling in the US to complete her undergraduate degree. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she is pursuing a Master of Science with specializations in Behavior, Education, and Communication & Ecosystem Science and Management at SEAS alongside her winter work study position at MBGNA.

A photo of Daniela amongst her houseplants, taken for the 2021 staff directory. Photo: Daniela Fernández Méndez Jiménez.