Lighting the Way

December 18, 2018

Like many students, Melanie Ruha was not exposed to horticulture until partway through college. She remembers liking trees growing up, but never thought it was something she could make a career of. She started out majoring in fisheries and wildlife, but quickly realized she was actually more interested in plants than animals and declared a double major in Plant Science and Spanish. Still, Ruha wasn’t really sure what to do with her newfound passion. Internships, scholarships, and study abroad opportunities helped to solidify her choice of majors and guide her career plans.

In summer 2018, Ruha completed an internship at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (MLA) as part of the George and Mary Lou Klacan scholarship program. She helped with grounds care while completing a research project on how using compost impacts pest management. One thing that stuck with Ruha from interacting with staff and visitors was the wide range of experiences that formed strong opinions people held about things like pest management. Her earlier study abroad in Spain taught her the importance of taking other cultures and ways of life into account—but the internship helped to apply that experience to her career goals.

“The MLA internship really helped confirm that public horticulture is something I’m passionate about. Horticulture has so many applications and so much potential to bring people together,” says Ruha. “I hope to be able to make the horticultural world more inclusive.” Ruha hopes to maintain public plant collections and inspire younger generations to become interested in plants.

This fall, Ruha also became the inaugural recipient of a scholarship established in memory of Colin O’Neill, founder of Prescription Landscape, Inc. and a graduate of the UMN horticulture program. O’Neill was known in the industry as a big-picture thinker who kept environmental health in focus and made decisions based on evidence and careful research—a habit spouse and co-founder Paulita LaPlante referred to as “going into U of M mode.” It’s fitting, then, that the first scholarship be awarded to Ruha, who shares a broader vision for the impact of horticulture.