The Arbor Day foundation, “the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees,” has recently recognized the conservation efforts of Mizzou by honoring the university with the Tree Campus USA designation. By receiving this title, Mizzou joins a growing list of universities around the country that have taken steps to promote “healthy trees and engaging students and staff in the spirit of conservation.”
This recognition is the result of many members of the Mizzou community who volunteered their time to help the school achieve its conservation and forestry goals. However, Sera Holland, a spring 2018 forestry graduate, and Allison Pittman, a forestry senior, were particularly influential.
The seeds of the project were planted last spring in a forest economics class where the two sat side by side, and one of their first assignments involved reading about Tree Campus USA. But after scrolling through the organization’s website and looking at the long list of schools that had been given the designation, Sera noticed one university missing: her own.
So, the two decided to change that.
However, this honor is not given out to just any old school with a few scrawny saplings and a sun-faded Smokey the Bear poster. To be given this distinction, a university must meet the five standards outlined by Tree Campus USA. These standards include: the establishment of a Campus Tree Advisory Committee, having a campus tree-care plan, dedicating annual expenditures for its campus tree program, holding an Arbor Day observance, and sponsoring forestry-related student service-learning projects.
And so, the process of accomplishing these tasks began.
The first standard was also the most difficult: the establishment of the Tree Advisory committee. After combining their own committee with another formed by a botanic gardens intern with Sustain Mizzou, a problem revealed itself. As it turns out, having to juggle the schedules of a number of already-busy individuals and get all of them together in the same place at the same time to talk about trees is not that easy, On top of all that, even when there were meetings held, Sera and Allison struggled with knowing how to run them.
Allison describes this period as a “low.”
“We didn’t really know how to go about it,” she says. The early stages of the committee proved to be a challenge for Sera and Allison, and even led to some members dropping out. Yet, eventually, the two figured out their agenda, and despite some shifts in the people involved, everyone still worked hard to realize the goal. And, with their help, the committee came to be.
As for the second standard, the creation of a campus tree care plan, Sera and Allison credit Adam Steffensmeier from Mizzou’s Landscape Service who recently graduated with a B.S. in plant science, with getting it put in place. “Without him, we probably wouldn’t have become designated,” Allison says. The third standard was also taken care of by Landscape Service, as they already dedicate funds for the care and maintenance of trees.
Last year, on National Arbor Day, they planted trees and gave a speech about their importance. The two also did something similar at the MU Child Development Laboratory, where they spent a day planting trees with the children while also teaching them about forestry. By doing so, they accomplished the fifth and final standard, the service learning project.
In total, the whole process of achieving the five goals ended up taking a year and, with just two weeks before the deadline, Sera and Allison, at last, got their application submitted. Despite it coming down to the wire, finishing the application process brought some relief, as well as a sense of accomplishment.
“When we finally finished it, it all clicked for me that we actually did something,” Sera says.
Francisco Aguilar, committee member and associate professor of forestry, describes Sera and Allison as a “driving force for this wonderful accomplishment through their commitment to this initiative and leadership in community service activities.”
Yet, according to Sera, achieving this title isn’t about them, but instead makes a statement to the world about Mizzou’s botanic care.
“It shows that we’re willing to go an extra step forward,” Sera says.
For Sera and Allison, as well as the many other professors and MU students involved in achieving this goal, the Tree Campus USA designation means more than a name added to a list, and despite occasional lulls in progress and difficulty in coordination, Sera says that for any other students trying to achieve the same honor for their schools:
“Don’t give up. It’s worth it.”