After seven years working as an arborist in Connecticut, Felicia Millett wanted to learn about plants of a smaller scale. Following a budding interest in nursery cultivation, she decided to leave her job and pursue a degree in plant science with a concentration in ornamental horticulture through the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture.
Over the summer, Millett worked in a local nursery and traveled to Columbus, Ohio as an American HortScholar, gaining valuable hands-on experience. She is an active member of the Horticulture Club on campus. Recently she received a Proven Winners Technical or Post-Secondary Institution Scholarship Award. Here is what she said in an interview.
What attracted you to UConn?
The faculty. I knew I wanted to work with woody plants and when I read through some of the faculty bios, as well as Naturally@UConn, I saw that there were professors here at UConn that were not only doing this, but also focusing specifically on native plants. There’s more to horticulture than just choosing plants that look good in the landscape. People are now more aware of the importance of choosing plants that attract pollinators or moving away from common landscape plants that have shown the potential to become invasive.
What is your major, and why did you choose it?
I’m a plant science major in the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture with a concentration in ornamental horticulture. I have the Connecticut arborist license and have done tree work here for several years, but I wanted to start getting involved in growing things. I’m working on gaining a better understanding of what plants are available on the market at the cultivar level and how new introductions are evaluated for our region here in New England.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why?
Our plant propagation professor, Mark Brand, encouraged my classmates and me to apply to a program called HortScholars, a professional development program put together by AmericanHort in conjunction with the Cultivate ‘19 trade show. Each year they select six horticulture students to travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a week to help build the exposition as well as participate in a number of educational and networking events. Being selected and attending the program this summer was an amazing opportunity and really broadened my perspective on the careers available in horticulture.
We met with everyone from young and successful entrepreneurs to some of the top names in the horticultural industry. Sometimes we worked side by side with them to install plant material or judge some of the new plant introductions. We even had time on stage to present on a topic important to us in the field. I would highly recommend applying to this program for anyone in horticulture who wants to take a look at the bigger picture, make some connections or gain a better perspective on what you might want to focus on in grad school.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies.
Joining UConn’s Horticulture Club has been a great way to get more hands-on experience in plant propagation in the Floriculture Greenhouse. I am really looking forward to helping prepare for the Horticulture Club’s display at next year’s Connecticut Flower & Garden Show. This is a great way to learn about the logistics involved, like getting the plant material ready, forcing things to flower and actually building the set-up.
This summer I worked as a craftsman at Monrovia Nursery in Granby, CT, mostly in the perennial division. It was a great way to experience nursery operations, to see how the care of containerized plants changes through different seasons, to hear a little bit about how new plant cultivars are evaluated and to work with really beautiful plant material every day.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career?
Making the decision to leave my job and go back to school was very hard. I was afraid of the financial risks involved and of making a career change at this point in my life. It turns out that UConn is a great place to do this because the coursework is very practical and can be applied right away in the field. The professors in the Plant Science Department are eager to help students succeed and really share information about opportunities in the industry.
When do you expect to graduate? What then?
I will be graduating in December of 2020. Until then, I’m hoping to find an opportunity to work alongside a research professional and gain experience that will influence my decision to go on to grad school.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
My husband and I lived in Shanghai for about a year because of his job. We did a lot of hiking and caving in different parts of China. At times we were surrounded by trees that we consider ornamental back home, but there they were growing wild in their natural environment. Listening to people talk about trees and plants and how they balance with other elements of nature, seeing how they’re represented in art and poetry or used in landscape practices left a deep impression on me. I never get tired of being outside and being surrounded by the beauty and complexities of the natural world and I hope to share this appreciation with others.