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Meet the Fellows
After a rigorous selection process, we are pleased to announce the talented professionals selected for the 2020–2021 cohort of our prestigious Fellows Program. These passionate individuals are joining our 13-month residential program that develops global leaders in the field of public horticulture.
Zach comes to the Fellows program from the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder where he served as a Grounds and Nursery associate for five years. Prior to CU Boulder, Zach launched and ran a nonprofit organization, Chain Reaction, that taught basic bicycle maintenance to underprivileged individuals in order to promote healthy lifestyles, share the importance of environment stewardship, and build community engagement. Additionally, he worked for Texas Mountain Flora in Denver where he transformed horticulturists’ visions into reality. Zach earned a BA in Sustainability Studies from Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs. While at Longwood, Zach hopes to continue to develop his emotional intelligence so he can more quickly build public awareness of the mental health benefits of horticulture after the program.
Noemí Hernández Castro
Before coming to Longwood, Hernández Castro worked as a plant propagation technician for 6 years at the Botanical Garden of the Institute of Biology of the National Autonomous University in Mexico. For three years there, she worked in a cacti and crassulacean species propagation program where one of the outcomes was to publish a technical support guide and register 5 plant varieties of Echeveria with the breeders title. Hernández Castro is currently working with a multidisciplinary team in the management of the University’s green spaces, focusing on the propagation and cultivation of native species to Mexico. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Autonomous Metropolitan University campus Xochimilco and during the program hopes to develop expertise in greening urban spaces around the globe.
Usman Ibrahim, Ph.D.
Usman Ibrahim, Ph.D. is on study leave from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria where he teaches horticulture and conducts horticulture-related research. He has 18 years of experience in the field of Agronomy and completed his Ph.D. also at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Ibrahim is the current President-in-Council of the Horticultural Society of Nigeria. His goals include establishing botanical and public gardens for private and public uses; establishing leadership courses for executives and managers of parks and gardens in Nigeria; and establishing the Association of Public Gardens of Nigeria. Ibrahim is looking forward to gaining skills through the Program that he can then use to transform Ahmadu Bello University Park and Gardens into a world-class garden and create curriculum that provides in-depth training of the theory and practice of public horticulture to both students and executives of parks and gardens in Nigeria. He is the first person from Nigeria to participate in the Fellows Program.
Nicholas (Nick) Lazio
Nick joins the Fellows Program from the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. where he recently served as an Agricultural Science Research Technician managing the many rare, wild-collected plants in the Asian Collection. Prior to that role, he was a Research Fellow who worked with the National Arboretum to lead several collection trips targeting plants of interest for the Woody Landscape Plant Germplasm Repository. He began his horticultural career after five years in banking after obtaining a degree in Finance from UNC Charlotte where his love of public gardens started through working at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden. While working in horticulture his passion for plants led him to become a certified Horticulturist and obtain a minor in Horticulture from Oregon State University. He is interested in how public gardens can serve as living laboratories that engage communities through transformative spaces while serving as a space that can foster interdisciplinary connections.
Joleen previously served as Program Chair and Horticulture Instructor for the Agricultural Sciences Department at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon. Joleen's career in Oregon's nursery industry started when she was fifteen and since then, she has worked for and managed nurseries in Oregon and Colorado. As a graduate student, Joleen studied free-choice learning in public gardens and arboreta and worked with interpretive specialists at the Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon, to develop a site interpretive and education master plan to identify and reach target audiences. After completing graduate school, Joleen started her horticultural teaching career and was soon nominated by her peers to receive the Outstanding Teaching Award in Science, Engineering, and Technology. During her time at Chemeketa, Joleen organized a Women in Horticulture event in partnership with the Lord & Schryver Conservancy; held an Ag Summit to offer professional development and industry networking for high school agricultural teachers; formed partnerships with Oregon’s nursery industry and public gardens; collaborated on a new Agricultural Complex at Chemeketa; developed a transfer degree to Oregon State University, Crop Health certificate, and new horticulture and soil courses; and served as a reviewer for a new conifer identification guide for the Pacific Northwest.
Katie comes to Longwood after serving as a Gardener Supervisor for the Architect of the Capitol, Grounds and Arboretum Division in Washington D.C. She has over eight years of experience in horticulture and environmental conservation. Katie’s passion for horticulture began when she worked for the Peace Corps as an environmental conservation specialist in Panama. In Central America, her love of tropical plants and community gardening grew while working in a local tree nursery and school gardens. Katie’s fascination with sustainable landscaping flourished when she managed a small landscaping company in Florida that was committed to providing native, healthy and ecological landscape services. She desired to share her innovative ideas and knowledge of sustainability and native landscape designs with public gardens, which brought her to work for the historical landscapes of the House of Representatives. Katie obtained her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and her master’s degree in sustainable landscaping from George Washington University.
Shawna Jones arrives at Longwood having been the Adult Education and Volunteer Coordinator for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for more than three years. Jones reached her position at the botanical garden by working and collaborating to build a school garden for her students as a social worker with Communities in Schools. Jones received her bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University in social work and Spanish, and her master’s degree in public administration with a focus on nonprofit development. Her passion for community development began with her time in the Peace Corps, when she was a Youth and Family Development volunteer in El Salvador.
Abra Lee is from the University of Georgia, where she serves as an Extension Agent for Fulton County. Lee has worked in the green industry for 18 years, in both the public and private sectors, having held landscape manager positions for two international airports: George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where she received the Urban Ag Council's Grand Award. Lee is a graduate of the Auburn University College of Agriculture, and owns Conquer The Soil, LLC, a brand that focuses on gardens, fashion, and culture.
Becky Paxton has previously served in roles from development to education at Cheekwood Estate and Gardens in Nashville, Tennessee. Her most recent position was leading the garden’s government and foundation giving initiatives, helping to secure Cheekwood’s first federal grant in more than three decades and developing programming and philanthropic support for Cheekwood’s acclaimed Japanese garden, Shōmu-en. With a background in art history and historic preservation, Paxton has worked to advance the care of significant landscapes and structures through resource development for historic homeowners and past board service on North Carolina's Orange County Historic Commission. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and is a member of the U.S.-Japan Council.
Mae Lin Plummer
Mae Lin Plummer serves as the Garden Director at The Duke Mansion in Charlotte, North Carolina. Plummer’s journey into public gardens began after leaving an 18-year career in the financial industry. Her fascination with plants matured into a healthy obsession after volunteering at the University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens. She soon realized the influential role of public gardens in the betterment of the human experience, in education, and in plant conservation. Over the past five years, Plummer has been immersed in the plant world, receiving certificates in horticulture and native plant studies, and engaging with the community as a horticulture instructor, children’s program instructor, garden speaker, and garden designer.
Barbara Wheeler serves as Collections Supervisor at the Dunedin Botanic Garden in New Zealand, where she has overseen and managed the operational management of the garden’s plant collections for 16 years. Wheeler has worked in public horticulture for 28 years, undertaking her initial apprenticeship training at Dunedin Botanic Garden before further training at Longwood Gardens in the International Gardener Program and later completing a Practical Diploma in Horticulture at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden, Wisley. She has been awarded several scholarships that have taken her to Israel and to Tresco Abbey Gardens in the Isles of Scilly. Additionally, she worked in Australia as a Gardener at the Australian Governor-General's residence in Sydney, and at Dunedin Botanic Garden in a Collection Curator role, managing and maintaining the Rock, Water, and Alpine Collections.
Nanette Wraith comes to the Fellows Program from her role as Head of Crops and Aromatic Collection at Keyneston Mill in Dorset, UK. Keyneston Mill is the home of Parterre Fragrances, a privately owned and newly created estate that grows perfume ingredients. During her three years at Keyneston Mill, Wraith established the horticulture team, designed and orchestrated the creation of the botanic gardens, and managed crop production. Prior to that, she worked for The Royal Horticultural Society, Wisley, as part of the Edibles Team. Additionally, she worked for the National Trust at Nymans in Sussex, and at the historic London garden of the Inner Temple, learning about successional planting and creative border design.