Chicago Botanic Garden: Rebecca Tonietto

Rebecca Tonietto

Does it matter whether bumblebees and honeybees land on early summer-blooming foxglove or native coneflowers in Chicago? It does to conservation scientist Rebecca Tonietto, Ph.D. She follows bees, tracking them across shrinking urban habitats and underscoring the important role of native pollinators and plant diversity.

The joint graduate program in plant biology and conservation through Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden is training the next generation of scientists like Dr. Tonietto to find solutions to protect and preserve plants, even as our ecosystem rapidly changes.

Take Chris Woolridge. The scientist, who earned a master’s degree from the program, is thinking about what plants will work in Chicago’s future climate so land managers can make smart choices about native plants now.

Chicago Botanic Garden: Chris Woolridge

Chris Woolridge

“Without plants, we wouldn’t be able to sustain most forms of life,” says Nyree Zerega, Ph.D., director of the joint graduate program.

We need plants — they play a critical role in the health and well-being of both our planet and its people, from the food we eat to the air we breathe. But because of threats such as climate change, 21 percent of the world’s plants are currently threatened with extinction, according to a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The graduate program is just one way the Chicago Botanic Garden is developing future leaders in science. The Science Career Continuum provides science experiences and college preparation for Chicago Public Schools students who come from backgrounds underrepresented in science. In 2017, that program received the grand prize in the UL Innovative Education Award program. The award recognizes outstanding nonprofits that integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and the environment into their educational framework.

Chicago Botanic Garden: Science Career Continuum

Science Career Continuum

In addition, more than 100 students in the Garden’s Conservation Land Management Internship Program traveled to 12 western states last year, gathering native seeds for the national Seeds of Success program. The idea is to create resilient ecosystems by having the right seeds on hand after wildfires or other natural disasters occur. Last summer, 18 undergraduate interns worked at the Garden through our Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

The Garden also leads the conversation on conservation. Through the Garden’s efforts, a bill on the importance of botany and native seeds was introduced in Congress. H.R. 1054: Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration, and Promotion Act will promote botanical research and botanical science capacity, and generate demand for native plants. It is also imperative to continue to work with partners such as the Forest Preserves of Cook County and its Next Century Conservation Plan, and the Plant Conservation Alliance, a consortium of federal agencies and more than 290 nonfederal “cooperators,” to solve the problems of native plant extinction and native habitat restoration.

The restoration of native habitats is challenging. Now, you can help those students in the joint graduate program make a difference.

The Garden has established the Janet Meakin Poor Scholarship Endowment Fund, which supports the Plant Biology and Conservation graduate program offered in partnership with Northwestern University. Janet was a conservationist who helped establish the science programs at the Garden — she recognized that growing a new generation of plant scientists and conservation advocates was essential to saving plants, people, and the planet. Thanks to a generous match by our partner institution, when the Garden raises an additional $1 million for the graduate program, Northwestern will match it. Initial funding for the Janet Meakin Poor Scholarship Endowment Fund included generous support from the Josephine P. and John J. Louis Foundation and others.

Please support these future leaders with a gift to the graduate program.