Campus News Georgia Impact

Plant biologist builds bridge between academics, service

Wendy Zomlefer

Wendy Zomlefer got fired up whenever she ventured out to the State Botanical Garden.

Accustomed to the sometimes abstract world of academic research, Zomlefer was swept up by the enthusiasm the public had for her studies in plant biology.

“I was doing all these activities (with the public) and getting immediate feedback,” she said. “If you have more direct contact with them, you realize how much they love what you do. They do love plants. They do love nature. You kind of forget that when you’re lecturing in a class, the love people have for these topics.”

Zomlefer, the curator of UGA’s Herbarium and an associate professor of plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, got to work hand-in-hand with the State Botanical Garden last fall through a Public Service and Outreach Faculty fellowship. She led a number of projects, from public lectures and a two-day workshop on herbarium techniques to demonstrations for children and organization of the garden’s own herbarium collection.

Zomlefer saw the fellowship as an opportunity to explore the natural intersection of the garden and her work with the herbarium, which is a research collection of preserved plant specimens that have been pressed and mounted with label data. Her proposal focused on the integration of two campus units focused on the study of plants.

“It’s building a bridge,” Zomlefer said. “They know about me more and I know them more.”