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Partnership Thriving with Chicago Botanic Garden

Keeping botany alive, plant science knowledge blooming: U.S. News & World Report

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s partnership with the Chicago Botanic Garden is helping to nurture graduate students, conservationists and a new generation of plant biologists at a time when botany professors may increasingly be on the endangered list.

A wide-ranging article in U.S. News & World Report recently highlighted the partnership’s Program in Plant Biology and Conservation as a bright spot of growth at a time when only a handful of U.S. colleges still have botany programs. In fact, the article discussed how the number of botany professors and students aspiring to be professors is gradually declining. 

In response to a need for broadly trained plant biologists, Northwestern teamed up with the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2005 to offer a unique master’s degree in plant biology and conservation. The interdisciplinary program is designed to prepare students for leadership positions in the fields of plant biology, ecology and conservation.

To date the program has graduated 36 master’s students who now are working in a wide range of plant biology and conservation-related positions or attending top Ph.D. programs around the world. In 2009 a Ph.D. degree was added, and in fall 2014 the program will matriculate the first students earning a new internship-based master’s degree. 

“It is critical that we train scientists who can make important decisions about sustaining and restoring the long-term health of the Earth, given the many environmental challenges we are faced with today,” said Nyree Zerega, director of the graduate program. “And plants, being the foundation of most ecosystems on Earth, are a critical part of the picture.”

The U.S. News article noted that Rebecca Tonietto, a Ph.D. student in the Northwestern-Chicago Botanic Garden plant biology and conservation program, is studying how plant restoration projects can impact native bee communities, important pollinators for both native and cultivated crops. U.S. News also pointed out that Tonietto and other experts believe it is important to start young students on the path to botany and plant science early on in their education, long before college.

“I think the earlier you can try to expose people to some of this stuff, any way you can expose students to this at a young age helps,” Tonietto told U.S. News. The article chronicled various efforts under way to try to stem the decline in interest and education in the botany field.

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