Horticulture student lands dream internship
Working in the dark and silent upper level of the Smithsonian U.S. National Herbarium, where the public is not allowed and old desks and dissecting scopes are the only company, was a childhood dream come true for Craig Carlson. “I felt like Indiana Jones,” he said.
The experience came as part of a prestigious internship with the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. He was one of three students selected nationwide to work in the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit from May 22 to Aug. 13.
An adventure and nature lover at heart, Carlson has been working with plants all his life. He grew up planting trees with his father, who was the volunteer city forester in Casselton, N.D., and spending summers in the woods with his best friend forming a childhood club they called “Danger Scouts.”
He has worked at Sheyenne Gardens nursery on and off since graduating from high school. And today he is a senior majoring in horticulture science at NDSU.
He heard about the internship from Louise Heinz, an administrative secretary in NDSU’s plant sciences department.
Carlson said the internship was more like an apprenticeship since he immediately began working on current breeding efforts and discussing future research with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s tree breeder and research geneticist, Richard Olsen. He mainly worked in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md.
His primary research project was to investigate various aspects of white ash (Fraxinus americana L.).
“I spent a lot of my extra time reading modern and antique treatments on Fraxinus. After which, I grabbed a pole pruner, GPS, plant press and set off to find the ‘elusive’ variation in white ash,” Carlson said. Carlson and Olsen also collected several populations in and around Maryland. “To collect, mount, describe and accession over 50 herbarium specimens with my name on the label as collector is an accomplishment.”
The experience of working at the U.S. National Arboretum has been a great honor for Carlson. “I have had the opportunity to do so many wonderful things in such a short period of time.”
Carlson also conducted research at prominent herbaria such as the Smithsonian U.S. National Herbarium in the Museum of Natural History, Harvard University Herbaria, U.S. National Arboretum Herbarium and The Arnold Arboretum Herbarium.
Carlson will graduate in December 2011 and is studying for the Graduate Record Exam. He hopes to further his education in plant breeding and genetics.
He has enjoyed his time at NDSU, especially the enthusiasm and helpfulness he noticed with every plant science professor. “They take as much time as you want. They’re always happy to talk about plants or your future or internships. In my experience, my adviser, Harlene Hatterman-Valenti, really helped me a lot,” Carlson said. “It’s just a sense of community that you don’ t find everywhere. We look out for one another. The horticulture faculty at NDSU gets just as excited when you find your niche. There really are endless possibilities with plants and the faculty will gladly tap into their networks to get you where you want to be.”
Carlson’s dream job would be to travel the world as a senior research scientist, collecting germplasm for use in the development of his teams’ plant introductions at a public or private institution.
“Taxonomists are by far the most interesting people to work with. In their youth, they travel all over the world, camping in forests and jungles, climbing mountains, discovering new plants; eventually ending up in silent herbaria, crouched over specimens, waiting to tell their stories to wide-eyed youngsters. Believe it or not, there is a great deal of adventure in taxonomy,” Carlson said.