Karen Slinkard posing in front of the Arboretum Waterway

What Arboretum Walks Can Reveal

Karen and Stephen Slinkard Learning by Leading endowment

“It’s all about plants, everything comes back to plants.” At least that’s Karen Slinkard’s philosophy (and the Arboretum and Public Garden team tends to agree).

Karen — a two-time UC Davis alum, active Davis community member and Master Gardener — and her husband Stephen have made a generous donation to create an endowment fund supporting the Learning by Leading student internship program and also made a current use pledge to be used over five years, also in support of the program.

Given her background, it is probably no surprise that Karen harbors a fondness for the Arboretum. Through her travels across the Southwest U.S., her sojourn in Italy, and northern migration through California, Davis stands out as special as does the Arboretum, where you can find Karen enjoying a (fast-paced) walk through the gardens multiple times a week.

It was through these walks in the Arboretum that Karen discovered the Learning by Leading program, designed to cultivate leadership and provide real-world experience for UC Davis students in fields addressing the earth’s most important environmental issues.

Karen shared that she was “fortunate to have many opportunities for hands-on experience” while completing her undergraduate degree in Food Science at UC Davis and wants to pay it forward by supporting Learning by Leading. “Hands-on experience is so important. There’s no replacement for it.”

With programs that range from Sustainable Horticulture to Waterway Stewardship to Education & Outreach with the Arboretum Ambassadors, interns get their hands dirty—literally in most cases—planting climate-ready trees, designing drought-tolerant landscapes for campus, monitoring nitrate in the Arboretum Waterway and more. One skill many interns learn is plant identification, an interest Karen shares.

Hear it from the students

Noreen Mabini, a former co-coordinator for the Learning by Leading Waterway Stewardship, said she “gained and improved on several [of her] leadership skills, such as planning, communication, problem-solving, and public speaking" through her internship.

Read more student testimonials

“If I’m driving past the farmland around Davis and I see a crop I don’t recognize, I’ll pull over to get a closer look. If there’s somebody around, I’ll ask them,” Karen said. “I’m an ag through and through.” This enthusiasm for plants runs through her life and is entwined with her passion for food. Karen eats a whole-food, plant-based diet, partially inspired by the knowledge she gained as a researcher in food science, along with a desire to eat sustainably. She is also part of a team that manages Grace Garden at the Davis United Methodist Church. The garden provides fresh organic produce to help feed the food insecure in our community.

Karen also emphasized the importance of “leading” in the Learning by Leading program. “I expect UC Davis students to graduate prepared to be leaders in their fields.” As the title of the program implies, one of the main objectives of the internship is to provide students with leadership skills they can carry into their careers by giving them the opportunity to direct projects solving real problems in the Arboretum and Public Garden and beyond.

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