Intern Spotlight: Mark Santamaria
"No ray of sunlight is ever lost, but the green which it awakes into existence needs time to sprout, and it is not always granted to the sower to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith."
- Albert Schweitzer
The University of Maryland’s Arboretum and Botanical Garden seeks to connect students with the campus in a way that other campus organizations can’t; that is, through horticulture and landscaping. Not only does the campus Arboretum focus on connecting volunteers with different gardens and landscapes around campus, but we also provide several internship opportunities for students who want to take things a step above regularly volunteering. This year, we looked to fill and expand the arborist, food gardens, stormwater, horticultural, and tree inventory internship positions. Today’s intern spotlight shines on Mark Santamaria who works alongside Richard Jones, the Campus Arborist.
Mark grew up not far from the University of Maryland in Scaggsville and after graduating high school he attended Howard Community College where he earned his Associates in General Studies and a Certificate of Proficiency in Professional Baking. Unsure of which direction to point his career path, Mark spent some time working at bakeries, restaurants, and in special education. After trying a few different outlets and attending career counseling at Howard Community College, Mark decided to return to school to pursue his deeply rooted passion for the natural world and working outdoors. Mark is now working towards a degree in Urban Forestry here at the University of Maryland.
Mark has been working with the Arboretum and Botanical Garden since February of 2017. He started as a volunteer, maintaining the Reiley Garden located beside the Arboretum Outreach Center on North Campus. A month into his volunteer work, he was offered the opportunity to assist in performing Tree Risk Assessments with the Campus Arborist, Richard Jones. This work led Mark to applying for an internship position working with the campus’ ArcGIS online arboretum inventory. Mark’s enthusiasm and persistence helped him gain this position and during the summer of 2017, he was able to work full time with Richard. Despite his passion for the outdoors, tree work was not something Mark thought he would love. Mark shared that he definitely fell into the practice by circumstance, but quickly found his passion for it.
At first, the majority of Mark’s work revolved around maintaining the Arboretum’s online database of the woody plants collection. There are around 15,000 documented woody plant specimens scattered over the campus, not including the natural forests on the edges of campus. Mark was responsible for data collection around campus, evaluating the diameter at breast height, general condition and health, potential hazards, total height, and canopy measurements for specimen trees and then inputting the data into the online database. The endless opportunities to learn along with his ability to apply his coursework to his internship have allowed Mark to take on more and more responsibilities like working on planting proposals, leading student volunteer groups, and performing daily tree work around campus on larger specimens. He now spends the majority of his time on tree maintenance, inventory maintenance, and various other projects.
There are a few projects Mark takes great pride in. He has been working hard to help the University of Maryland’s Arboretum seek accreditation with a global network of arboreta known as ArbNet. Mark shared that this accreditation will strengthen the University of Maryland’s presence as a nationally recognized arboretum and will facilitate greater collaborative work with arboreta around the world. Mark has also pushed for the University to take part in The Global Trees Campaign, an initiative dedicated to the preservation and support of endangered tree species. Mark collaborated with the Georgia Forestry Commission and was able to obtain acorns for the Georgia Oak, an endangered oak tree native to the United States. Mark reports that the Arboretum’s little Georgia Oak seedlings are happy and healthy.
According to Mark, trees are invaluable in numerous ways that benefit us psychologically, physically, economically, and culturally. The expansive tasks of caring for the trees on campus and regularly assessing the collection provide a safe and comfortable environment for those who visit campus and a plethora of learning opportunities for students in numerous academic programs. It gives Mark a really cool feeling to work on something that so greatly enriches the lives of the University of Maryland community. Not only does his work enrich the lives of those on campus, the collection itself is enriched through the specimens chosen to call our campus their homes. There is a growing collection of genetically unique specimens from the USDA Germplasm Repository on campus and this helps in promoting and preserving genetic diversity of such specimens. The campus is also home to three large Momi Firs (Abies firma), a tree native to Japan and one that is not common in tree collections.
Mark describes the internship as very physically and intellectually challenging at times. Most of his time is spend outside pruning and assessing trees, something that requires foresight and critical thinking to ensure the best course of action or best care practices over time. Mark says that is something that just takes lots of practice and experience. But despite the physical and intellectual challenges, Mark describes the work as very fulfilling and never dull. In fact, he can’t picture doing anything else. Having a great mentor makes a world of difference. Mark could not pick a better person to learn from than Richard Jones. Mark shared that Richard’s knowledge and professional experience have made learning from him an invaluable resource to his personal development into the arboricultural professional Mark hopes to be one day. Mark has enjoyed his experience so much that he said he would love to work for the University of Maryland’s Arboretum upon graduation. Mark has never worked with a staff that are as dedicated or passionate about the work that they do, something certainly infectious for himself. He is also very interested in working with Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources Forest Service.
In closing, Mark provides some great advice for those interested in any type of outdoor work. Mark encourages those interested to look into volunteering opportunities with the campus Arboretum and Botanical Garden. If you take any Plant Science courses, look for volunteer opportunities or connections there. No matter what, really go after what you feel most passionate about. The Arboretum has staff for trees, horticulture, and stormwater management. The Community Learning Garden, between Eppley and the School of Public Health, is open to anyone interested in learning about agriculture. Mark’s whole experience with the Arboretum began by walking up and letting the staff know he was interested in working on trees. By taking that little bit of initiative and continually trying to learn something new each day, his internship has really become one of the best opportunities he could have ever asked for in developing himself personally and professionally.
Written by fellow intern Lydia Printz
If you are interested in volunteering with the campus Arboretum, contact Meg Smolinski at email@example.com. If you would like to connect with Mark or Richard about the world of trees you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the different internship opportunities available through the campus Arboretum and Botanical Garden, visit https://www.arboretum.umd.edu/volunteer-internships/internships.
If you are interested in the Community Learning Garden semester work hours are Mondays and Thursdays 4 p.m. to 5 p.m..