F&M Stories

Student Gardener Finds Her Campus Roots

Finished with her last week of summer work in the greenhouse, which sits atop the Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building on campus, junior Erblina Beqiri reflected on her experience.

"I would say my experience has been extremely rewarding," said Beqiri, a double major in environmental studies and business, organizations and society from New York City. "I've learned how to plant, water, fertilize, trim, transplant, and assist in pest control of plants."

Most importantly, she said, "I have gained an appreciation for how these plants can be used for research, labs, and student projects to progress our scientific understanding of our environment."

James Engleman, the greenhouse manager and laboratory technician in the Department of Biology, employs one student in the summer who works 20 hours per week. During the academic year, his crew expands to seven student employees who put in a combined 35-40 hours per week.

Among their greenhouse tasks, students help to prepare plants for specific courses, such as a biology class on crop plants, and they grow sunflowers (with a hive of bumblebees) for another course that studies pollination.

"Over winter break, I often hire international students who do not go home between semesters but choose to remain on campus, and are looking for a job," Engleman said.

For Beqiri, her decision was based on a need to connect with her campus and put down roots.

"With COVID, most of my college experience has been online, so it was important for me to have an in-person and hands-on experience this summer," she said. "Fortunately, I came across the greenhouse assistant position."

The greenhouse also provides a variety of plants, selected by German Quintana, groundskeeper project specialist, that are used for College events such as Commencement.

"We grow trees, shrubs, houseplants, agricultural crops, and epiphytes," Engleman said. "Erblina works hard to try to get everything done each day."

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