Wendy Zomlefer got fired up whenever she ventured out to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.
Accustomed to the sometimes abstract world of academic research, Zomlefer was swept up by the enthusiasm the public had for her studies in plant biology.
“I was doing all these activities (with the public) and getting immediate feedback,” she said. “If you have more direct contact with them, you realize how much they love what you do. They do love plants. They do love nature. You kind of forget that when you’re lecturing in a class, the love people have for these topics.”
Zomlefer, the curator of the University of Georgia’s Herbarium and an associate professor of Plant Biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, got to work hand-in-hand with the State Botanical Garden last fall after through a Public Service and Outreach Faculty Fellowship. She led a number of projects, from public lectures and a two-day workshop on herbarium techniques to demonstrations for kids and organization of the garden’s own herbarium collection.
Zomlefer saw the fellowship as an opportunity to explore the natural intersection of the garden and her work with the herbarium which is a research collection of preserved plant specimens that have been pressed and mounted with label data. Her proposal focused on the integration of two campus units focused on the study of plants.
“It’s building a bridge,” Zomlefer said. “They know about me more and I know them more. I knew about their conservation program, but I didn’t know how extensive it was.”
That work continues now that her fellowship has ended. Zomlefer will present along with garden conservationist Linda Chaffin at this summer’s Botany 2016 national convention in Savannah. She’s also discussed putting a grant proposal together with Wilf Nicholls, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.
“It seems really obvious, but in a place like a university that’s so huge, things get sort of siloed,” said Lisa Donovan, a distinguished research professor who heads the plant biology department. “It takes somebody who is willing to go a little bit beyond their normal duties and make those connections. I’m delighted that she would do so.”
Between lectures and her work at the herbarium, which occupies aspace inside the Miller Plant Sciences Building, Zomlefer doesn’t often get the direct interaction with the public the Garden offers. She returned with renewed enthusiasm and that energizes the students and faculty she works with on the academic side, Donovan said.
While the herbarium supports a wide range of research at UGA, it belongs to the citizens of Georgia. The partnership allowed Zomlefer to add to the Garden’s expertise while promoting a valuable resource.
“Part of our mission is the service associated with the herbarium,” Donovan said. “She’s broadened how we reach the public in one fell swoop.”