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Will Olson’s duties as an intern at Allen Centennial Garden include beekeeping. (Photo by Nik Hawkins)

Allen Centennial Garden may be one of the most beautiful places on the UW–Madison campus, but it’s also becoming one of its most comprehensive classrooms.

Dedicated in 1989, Allen Garden (as it’s known informally) replaced the former instructional gardens attached to the Plant Sciences Building, which were removed in 1979 to make room for a facility expansion. Located just one block to the north, Allen Garden has served as a living laboratory ever since its debut. But recently, students have become more involved in its operation through a growing internship program initiated by director Benjamin Futa.

Futa became director of Allen Centennial Garden in 2015 and quickly developed a strategic plan to strengthen engagement between the garden and campus life. He focused on developing a dynamic internship program based on co-ownership, initiative, and responsibility.

“We give our interns the title of student directors to represent how instrumental they are to the garden’s success,” Futa says. “They’re deeply involved with everything we do here.”

Will Olson’s duties as an intern at Allen Centennial Garden include beekeeping. (Photo by Nik Hawkins)

Just two years later, his vision has come to life. Allen Garden now employs six interns and a growing professional staff. Students’ majors range from landscape architecture and horticulture to sociology and art, and how they apply their academics to the garden is limited only by their imaginations.

“If any student approaches me with an interest or idea that is even in the realm of possibility, we try to make it happen,” Futa says.

This inclusive mentality has led to the implementation of art installations, beehives, and public events, including the “Best. Friday. Ever.” events in summer 2017. It also assures student directors will graduate with a well-rounded skill set. Peter Hauser, a current student director of horticulture, envisions a career in plant research and appreciates the doors that the garden has opened for him in the last two years.

“It has given me the proper prerequisites to explore vast opportunities not only in horticulture, but also in botany, agriculture, and agronomy,” Hauser says.

Regardless of their titles, all students maintain a portion of the garden and take part in incredible field trips that focus on hands-on learning, networking, and professional development.

These internship experiences would be impossible without the generosity of others, Futa notes. “Beyond day-to-day work in the garden and the salary support it requires, private gifts allow us to support students’ pursuit of their own interests through independent projects and field trips. These experiences are curated to provide meaningful, authentic, and empowering learning experiences for our students.”

Would you like to help provide internship opportunities for students? You can make a gift to the Allen Centennial Garden Community Fund.