By Anita Michaud
The Nature Academy is focused on training a new generation of environmental leaders in sustainability, conservation, and ecological restoration. Everyone plays an important role in maintaining the properties, programs, services, and functions of Matthaei-Nichols. As part of the Nature Academy program, each intern develops a project. The project provides an opportunity to take on responsibility in an area of interest, contribute to the goals of their team, and develop a skill or area of knowledge that can be added to the intern’s portfolio.
As a returning visitor services and engagement intern, I now have one summer of intern experience under my belt. I’ve thought a lot about my experience as a Matthaei-Nichols intern and the impact it’s had on my life. Of course, I know a lot more about the plants in our conservatory, display gardens, and throughout the arboretum. I’ve also learned how to be a leader in stressful situations and how to interact with visitors and volunteers, and I’ve gotten to know many knowledgeable and interesting fellow interns, permanent staff, and volunteers. In this blog post I look at ways to enhance our intern experience with a series of events that create a strong sense of community among the interns.
Matthaei-Nichols Nature Academy interns participate in helping plant heritage seeds for the Indigenous Collaborative Garden at Matthaei Botanical Gardens on May 23, 2019.
The Botanical Gardens by nature is a place that fosters friendship and community. While there are many events specifically for interns and staff, there are not many opportunities outside of work for interns to bond. Several times throughout the summer, in addition to all-staff meetings, interns should have the opportunity to get to know each other better through Matthaei-Nichols-sponsored bonding events. These events could be a part of the all-staff meetings, or separate events. In summer 2018 there was an intern ice cream social which I looked forward to and greatly enjoyed. More of these events would help build community among interns throughout the summer! As far as planning these events, we could enlist several returning interns as facilitators. Alternatively, the standing committee in charge of the internship program could incorporate the programs into the calendar events for the year.
Some possible events could include the following:
- All Intern Bonfire Night: held at the Campus Farm
- All Intern Movie Night: held at the Matthaei Auditorium, with healthy snacks and beverages
- All Intern Picnic: at the end of the summer in the Arboretum’s Main Valley as a farewell gathering and celebrating a great summer!
I propose a spreadsheet of alumni information that is distributed to new interns at the start of their internship. At the end of each summer, interns will be given the choice to join the alumni network and fill out a form with information about their type of internship, major, year graduated, current job, etc. An example of this alumni contact info sheet can be found here. Interns would be able to contact previous alumni from the program who may be doing relevant jobs or careers that pertain to intern interests. I believe that introducing a networking aspect to this internship will be immensely beneficial to interns who have an interest in furthering their careers in areas relevant to their experience at the gardens.
Logistically, at the beginning of August, a Google form similar to one shown here would be sent to all interns (interns can opt out if they choose) and a visitor services and engagement intern could be in charge of compiling the responses and updating the alumni spreadsheet at the end of August. At the beginning of the following summer in May, the incoming interns would receive access to the spreadsheet. One permanent staff member could be in charge of monitoring and updating the alumni spreadsheet throughout the year should any changes or new information arise.
Interns could be encouraged to join the alumni spreadsheet by extending their student membership for another year past their internship ending. In addition, this is a wonderful way to continue the growth of our community at Matthaei-Nichols!
Intern Clothes Closet
Often, at the end of the internship, interns have acquired long pants suitable for gardening, hats, and other apparel that is useful for being out in the field all day, but may not be used after. At the end of their internship, interns can donate their gently used Arb and Gardens shirts, hats, gardening shorts, pants, and other clothing that future interns can benefit from. This gives new interns access to work gear they may not be able to afford otherwise.
Anita Michaud is a rising junior from Plymouth, MI in the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science & the Arts. She is an honors double major in organizational studies and history of art. She likes to read, paint, cook, and travel.