Internship grows junior's passion for plants

By Rachel Hayn

Hannah Thomas

Photo by Rachel Hayn

Last summer, Hannah Thomas was an intern for the Purdue Arboretum, which aims to collect and display trees from around the world. The junior landscape architecture major from Indianapolis photographed trees, shrubs and vines. ​Full-size image (582 KB)

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Ask Hannah Thomas what her favorite plant at Purdue is and she'll give you its scientific name and characteristics. Thomas, a junior landscape architecture major from Indianapolis, could also show you exactly where it is located.

"My favorite tree on campus is probably the Acer griseum: paperbark maple," Thomas said. "It's the one that sits over John Purdue's grave. The bark is peeling different shades of yellow and browns, and I think the bark is just stunning at any time of the year."

Thomas credits her enthusiasm for the plants and trees on campus to her internship with the Purdue Arboretum. The arboretum aims to collect and display trees from around the world at Purdue. Their database of trees and plants also serves an educational function for students and members of the community.

Thomas began working for the arboretum last summer by documenting the identities and locations of every plant on campus. That wasn't easy, because the country was suffering from some of the most intense heat and drought in years. Thomas said the friendships she built with fellow interns kept her motivated and excited to go to work every day — even when it was over 100 degrees. Although the heat made working outside difficult, her love of the work and the friendships she formed made the heat more tolerable.

"We didn't come to work every day just to work," said Thomas. "Knowing I was going to be spending the day with the other interns got me excited to go to work, even when heat was unbearable."

Thomas and the other interns beat the heat when they could by taking advantage of their time inside.

"It was nice when we got to do computer work in the lab," said Andrea Brennan, a horticulture specialist who earned a bachelor's degree in public horticulture in 2012. One of the other interns would pump up the music since nobody else was around.

Thomas and the other interns also enjoyed reminiscing about the past while listening to oldies and watching YouTube videos, like Will Farrell parodies.

Although the summer portion of her job is over, Thomas continues to work for the arboretum between classes.

"It's been a weekly challenge of mine to make the time to continue work on the arboretum," she said. "With classes, exams, projects and just life in general, it can be hard to manage time."

Thomas focused on photographing the trees, shrubs and vines, and then organizing and editing the photos. Before working at the Purdue Arboretum, she had never heard of the project, but she said her experience gave her a love and appreciation for the work — something she hopes to carry with her after graduation.

"I will most definitely continue to be an avid supporter of the Purdue Arboretum post-graduation and probably for the rest of my life," said Thomas. "It's still so young that I am really excited for what's to come, and I know there will be opportunities to support what we have started."

She also hopes the experience will help her landscape architecture career.

"I hope I can integrate all that I have learned into the design process and apply some of the plant knowledge to design as well," said Thomas.​​​