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Discovery that Connects

From fundamental insights to better plants, sustainably grown, serving the world

Grad students entertain and educate with Virtual Plant workshop

title of workshop
-Magdalen Lindeberg

Need a break from reviewing a manuscript? Looking for a fun way to communicate science to home bound kids?  Visit the Virtual Plant workshop and watch demonstrations of plant anatomy, learn about famous botanists, play the addictive “Plant Personality Quiz”, and more! The workshop was created by  graduate students in the Field of Plant Biology for the 2021 Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conference.  Ordinarily, EYH brings up to 500 girls grades 7-9 to Cornell’s Ithaca campus for a combination of talks and hands-on workshops, but with COVID19-related shutdown, the 2021 conference switched to live and pre-recorded virtual experiences.

person in lab coat whowing a drawing of a plant
Liz Mahood introduces the basics of plant anatomy

Following the EYH conference, I reached out to student organizers Liz Mahood, Clarice Guan, Heather Phillips, Adriana Hernández, Arielle Johnson, Kate Harline, Nicole Szeluga, Nathan Scinto-Madonich, and Jesús Martínez-Gómez to ask about their experience (responses have been slightly edited for length).

How did the idea for the site come about?
Originally we were planning two separate plant activity workshops for Expanding Your Horizons: “Exploration through the Plant Kingdom” and “Museum Mysteries.” But when EYH solicited videos to replace the in-person workshops, our two workshops joined forces, began making videos, and decided it would be a great idea to permanently host them on the internet.

What inspired you to include the content you did?
Both workshops were originally designed by Plant Biology students, so there was already the potential for an overlapping focus. “Exploration through the Plant Kingdom” included a tour of the Cornell Conservatory and “Museum Mysteries” focused on Herbarium based research, so we wanted to showcase both of these facilities in our videos. EYH also emphasizes showing girls what ‘a day in the life’ of a scientist is really like, so we thought up the ‘What is a Botanist, Anyways?’ video as an opportunity to show the girls what field work is like.

What was most fun?
Jesus: For me the most fun thing was watching this project unfold. We began meeting over Zoom shortly after campus closed. We divided the project into smaller teams and every meeting we had reports and brainstorming and it was overall very fulfilling. I am continually impressed with how creative my Plant Bio peers are!

Heather: The most exciting part for me was seeing how so many people were willing to come together and put in the extra effort to get this project done in just a few short weeks. We had previously spent months planning the in person workshop, so when I got the email that EYH was canceled I was pretty crushed about it. I initially assumed that it would be too much effort to create an online version of the workshop until we got the idea to join forces. After that, many more volunteers joined our team and put in the extra effort, which made it that much more fun to contribute to an unexpected and really polished end product.

person showing different plantsClarice: We all banded together as grad students from different labs, which was the most fun for me. Isolation impacted the workshop materials we were able to give to EYH, but it also obviously affected us all socially – so to work together on a project like this, with so many people contributing and keeping everything on track, was really fun!

Arielle: I was involved in some of the writing for the voice-over scripts for the conservatory and greenhouse footage.  Having Clarice and Liz make great edits to my scripts and then watching Jesus, Nathan, and Liz bring the narration to life in the final videos was amazing!  (Highlight: Nathan performing my “dad joke” about pea dispersal not being pea-ceful.)  There are some absurdly talented copyeditors, actors, and video production specialists in this group of plant biologists.

person showing idfferent flowersAdriana: We all worked well as a team of plant biologists with diverse skills and interests so we were able to creatively articulate botanical concepts in an accessible manner. The funnest part for me was watching our project evolve as we built on each other’s ideas, and observing each team member’s talents flourish. I hope we’ll keep the momentum going to continue producing educational tools and increasing representation and inclusion in plant science!

Are there additions to this site or future educational resources you’d like to create or see made available for MS and HS students?
There were a couple ideas that we could not implement due to the time constraint. Originally we wanted to do a live-action video where one of us played the role of the famous woman botanist – we might revisit this in the future. We also only had the chance to highlight two famous female plant biologists (Barbara McClintock and Ynes Mexia), yet botany has had a long history of women professionals including Ethel Sargent, Agnes Arber, Katherine Esau and many more. In the future we would love to continue to add to that section. We’d also want to add more footage related to everyday work/research in herbaria and museums, since we were unable to get any due to isolation.

Have you received any feedback or seen stats on site visits?
We’ve received positive feedback on Twitter. Including our website being added to the Botanical Society of America Teaching Botany resource page (https://cms.botany.org/home/resources/online_resources.html). We don’t have much website data yet but do know we have visitors from both Canada and the United Kingdom as well as the US!

And what was my Plant Personality? Oh no…!

description of pitcher plants


Read more about past EYH workshops and activities created by SIPS faculty, staff, and students:

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