From the March 2014 Desktop News | Monica Watkins, a 2002 College of Arts and Sciences graduate and the University’s first-ever Udall Scholar, has returned to her alma mater as the director of the UA Arboretum.
Watkins, who began her new position in January, has focused on assessing the Arboretum’s facilities and planning for upgrades. She is also responsible for all aspects of operation including curating and caring for the living plant collection, facilitating research at the site, presenting public education programs and working with the Friends of the Arboretum Board.
“Being hired as the UA Arboretum Director is the realization of a career goal I set as an undergraduate,” she said. “I worked to get the right mix of academic, professional and volunteer experiences to become director of a place like the Arboretum, and I hoped that the opportunity would be available when I was ready to take it. Fortunately, it was.”
As an undergraduate, Watkins studied biology, geography and environmental studies and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree. She volunteered at the UA Arboretum, served as president of the Alabama Environmental Council, worked in biology research labs, was a finalist for the Truman Scholarship and was named the University’s first Udall Scholar while at UA.
She received a master of science degree in forest resources with an emphasis in plant community and ecosystem ecology from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, where she also taught undergraduate soil and hydrology labs and volunteered as a trail guide at the Sandy Creek Nature Center. Her research focused on above- and below-ground effects of a potential forest fungal disease, sudden oak death, and plant community composition and carbon flux in a southern Appalachian forest.
More recently, she was a Ph.D. student in the department of biological sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi. Funded by two fellowships, one through the U.S. Department of Education and another through the National Science Foundation, she served as a teaching assistant for undergraduate biology labs and was a teaching fellow at Hattiesburg High School. She plans to continue her doctoral studies in science education.
“The UA Arboretum provides the perfect opportunity to practice hands-on ecology education through work with students and public citizen science programs,” she said.
She also plans to further the Arboretum’s mission of teaching, research and service through expanding its education program and by increasing plant diversity in the greenhouse and on the grounds.
For more information, visit www.arboretum.ua.edu.