Posted February 18, 2013

Temple Made: Denise Racquel Snook

Name: Denise Racquel Snook

Year: senior

School: School of Environmental Design

Major: horticulture

Home town: Shillington, Pa.

Why I chose Temple: "I wasn't always as passionate about plants as I am now. I started out on a different track and attended other universities as an English and philosophy major. But there was something missing. I was three credits short of graduation when I decided to leave. After years of traveling and living in different places, I ended up getting into ethnobotany. I did it on a whim, but it changed my life. I started getting into plants. I wanted to know everything about them. I realized that I needed to back to school and study plants in an academic way.

"There aren't a lot of college programs in horticulture. I'm an older student, so coming back to school I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do: I wanted to study plants and plant communities — how to manage plants, how to protect them — because I wanted to get into conservation and restoration. Temple's horticulture program is geared to understanding plants as part of the landscape. It's not just botany, nor is it a master gardener program. The fact that Temple University's Ambler Campus was known as 'green campus' with an ecological bent was really appealing to me. Plus Temple had an arboretum, so I had an opportunity to have plants all around me.

"Finally, Philadelphia is a horticultural mecca. It has the most arboreta of any city in the country; it's so rich with opportunity and history. If you're in the field of horticulture and you're at Temple, you're automatically plugged into that."

Transformative moment: "I'm a student coordinator for the Temple University Ambler-Philadelphia Zoo Project, which is funded by a National Fish and Wildlife Fund grant. The project's mission is to restore biodiversity and offset the carbon footprint by planting native woody tree species adjacent to the Zoo in West Park, part of Fairmount Park. West Park was the site of the Centennial Exhibition, the first World's Fair, in 1876. The adjacent woodland is fragmented and includes many invasive species. Replanting native trees is critical. We're facilitating the success of the trees that belong here: hickories, redbuds, dogwoods, maples, oaks and beeches. Philadelphia is along one of the world's major migratory flyways and Fairmount Park provides important habitat. By 2011, when I first took over as student coordinator, the project had planted 144 trees in the project site. We now have more than 1,000 trees to plant this spring. Working with Landscape Architecture and Horticulture faculty and staff, we mobilized the Temple Ambler community, cleaned up the facilities and built a shade house here to house tree seedlings. We got the tree propagation going again."

"That project led to two internships. I was an invasive plant steward at High School Park, an 11-acre park in Elkins Park, Pa.; I worked on a meadow restoration there. I also worked at Greenland Nursery, where Fairmount Park propagates native plants, through Pi Alpha Xi, the horticultural honor society.

"The classes at Temple Ambler are great, but a lot of what I'm getting is because I've established close relationships with the professors in the horticulture program. They are so knowledgeable. The program is small, so you get to know the people individually and can take advantage of their experience. For example, Assistant Professor Sasha Eisenman is the advisor for Pi Alpha Xi. I asked him if he would take me on as a directed studies student. I studied lichens of the Philadelphia area with him. Now I'm his laboratory assistant. I've learned how to do DNA analyses. I've learned about herbaria. He took me to the Academy of Natural Sciences to hold samples that were collected by Lewis and Clark. He's the most inspiring person I've ever met."