When Monica Carlsen met fourteen-year-old Gabrielle McAuley at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s science open house in the spring, she assumed the teen’s father had talked her into going to the event. As it turns out, it was the other way around.
“I made my dad come down here to look at volunteer opportunities,” McAuley said on a recent Friday afternoon while sorting plant specimens. McAuley and her dad ended up at the Science and Sustainability Open House, where she learned about internships available at the Garden, including one organized by Carlsen, Assistant Scientist and Education Coordinator at the Garden.
Carlsen’s internship, funded by the Smithsonian Institute for Biodiversity Genomics, stood out the most. It brings interns to the Garden to collect samples and learn about plant identification.
McAuley followed up with an email and now, in the summer before she starts high school, she is spending her Fridays working with Carlsen in the Climatron, hunting for plant specimens to collect. “I don’t want to sit at home and watch Netflix…I want to come and learn about botany,” McAuley says.
The internship is a way for McAuley to continue to pursue a passion for working with plants that she first cultivated at MAP St. Louis, the Montessori school she attended. McAuley was a founding member of the school’s Stream Team and was co-manager the of MAP St. Louis Rain Garden. As part of the rain garden project, McAuley spent a great deal of time researching native plants to fill the garden and attract native wildlife.
“It was really neat,” she says, noting that the plants also attracted bees and butterflies.
At her internship at the Garden, McAuley’s learned more about plants and the science of preserving specimens. She’s most appreciated that Carlsen takes the time to explain everything to her to make sure she truly understands the science behind it all.
Eventually, McAuley would like to be an urban planner, specifically working to incorporate native plants into urban designs. Whatever she chooses to pursue, the internship—which is typically held by college students, according to Carlsen—is a great start to McAuley’s resume. “It’s also a real life experience,” Carlsen explains. “It’s not learning a book what a plant biologist does, it’s actually being a plant biologist.”
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