Summer Intern Chronicles: Frankie Diaz from University of Connecticut

Intern at Heritage Museums and Gardens
UConn student Frankie Diaz (Right) works with other interns in a greenhouse at Heritage Museums and Gardens. (Courtesy photo)

My name is Frankie Diaz and I am currently interning at Heritage Museums and Gardens at Sandwich. I attend University of Connecticut, pursuing a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and minoring in Ornamental Horticulture. The topic of career selection, especially with my peers, is a tentative topic that brings great stress to the young professional. I would like to address the university student who is uncertain what it is they want to specialize in—those at the cross-roads of selecting their career. The question, “so what do you want to do for your career?” is constantly being bombarded upon the university student and weighs heavily on their mind, especially if they are still undecided. The aspiring professional is often stricken with feelings of transient potentialities and the fear of uncertainty— like a game of chess with lasting consequences. Potential false moves and the young professional is left wistfully thinking about what they should have done. I have come to learn this pressure is absolutely normal and pushes people towards action. Using this energy, I chose an internship that lies closer to my interests in horticulture overall. The best way to quell your indecisions is by jumping right in and completing a summer internship! This is the best way to summarize the lessons of your university teachings and gives you a preview of your future career prospects.

Nothing paints a better picture than a firsthand account. I couldn’t be happier with my choice interning at Heritage Museums and Gardens (HMG). HMG was a perfect choice due to the smaller staff size allowing a more intimate relationship with the horticulturists. The staff is friendly, the locality is stunning, and the level of professionalism is impressive. The best feature of my internship is the focus on mentorship. The senior gardeners: Iris Clearwater, Brian Razzano, and Laura Swain are not only top-tier professionals; they are also passionate about their roles in HMG and are always eager to impart their acquired knowledge. Hands-on training ranging from plant propagation, greenhouse operations, plant nomenclature and integrated pest management to learning how to operate a Bobcat loader is rehearsed daily at the gardens. A day doesn’t go by without learning something new from these three terrific individuals. Hands down, having three mentors showing me the ropes in the field of horticulture is an invaluable resource that cannot be replicated in an academic environment.

Perhaps the second-best part about this internship is the amount of field trips scheduled for the summer. Going to Provincetown for a plant order, Garden in the Woods in Framingham, even to Polly Hill Arboretum in Martha’s Vineyard; the staff at HMG really knows how to introduce the area. These field trips encapsulate the, “business side” of a botanical garden and provides great insight on the varying methodologies each garden utilizes to achieve peak performance. A close talk with the Director of Horticulture at Garden in the Woods led me to think about the on-going debate in regards to native vs non-native plants and their effects on the ecosystem. These field trips were informative even for the horticulturists at HMG; the pursuit of knowledge is a lifelong process no matter how proficient you are. Another event to look forward to is the inaugural New England Intern Outreach Day. Interns in horticulture will be gathering for a day of service, learning, and networking. I look forward to meeting other interns and learning more about the opportunities in public horticulture. Many special events are lined up for this summer experience!

I cannot stress the value of an internship enough. Just a few weeks in my view of the whole education-to-career process has changed. Seeing the end goal of the university teachings and its applications really set things into perspective for me. This enabled me to narrow down what exactly I want to specialize in within horticulture. The value of speaking to people that have walked down career paths I am eventually going to take eliminates a lot of the uncertainty regarding employment. Having such a close-knit group enables me to build rapport with the horticulturists and gain insight in other important aspects of a career. There really is a spectrum to career selection you must come to terms with regarding what you are talented in and what your passions are. In most cases, society does not reward what you are passionate in so you must find a happy medium between doing what society rewards and what is rewarding to you. There’re many other bits of information essential to my eventual career transition I have failed to mention here due to brevity. This just reveals the ignorance I had concerning my career prospects before the internship and reiterates the importance of building connections with seasoned professionals.

Even the best places has its flaws—Cape Cod is no exception. Perhaps you have landed yourself an internship here: what should an incoming intern know? A few obstacles I had to contend with journeying to Cape Cod had to do with finding housing. Surprisingly, it took around 40 private messages via Craigslist and other third-party websites to finally find a seasonal room to rent. Many houses are rented out at a premium here (especially during summertime) in the Cape, and room rentals were less frequent towards the Sandwich area. In all honesty, I should have expected housing was competitive at such a prime summer hotspot. Another aspect of Cape Cod to be wary of is its abundance of 2-lane rotaries in high-traffic areas. Mix this in with frequent out-of-state drivers unfamiliar with a regular rotary and you have yourself a recipe for frustration coupled with bouts of road anxiety. Though these rotaries aren’t too bad once you getused to them, they can get a lot more sophisticated.

Traffic and housing aside, Cape Cod is one of the best places I have spent my summers at in the States. The key takeaway I stress to the younger readers of CapeCodToday or others found in a similar predicament is to put yourself in an advantageous position regarding career selection. For me, and many others in my position, a mentor was an integral part of my professional development. Having like-minded mentors that have lived a life you desire is an education that cannot be replicated anywhere else. I have learned that uncertainty is a natural part of the growing process, encouraging an individual to take risks and seek guidance. Friendly locals and professional staff set in historic Sandwich makes my internship at Heritage Museums and Gardens a career propelling experience. I recommend all those interested in the field of horticulture to spend a summer here and make friends with the horticulturists; their knowledge knows no bounds and their passion for what they do is commendable.


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