May 19, 2008
For Joyce Rondinella, the Earth is her classroom. She plans to protect it in whatever way she can and teach others to do the same.
“I’ve always had a passion for the environment — I’ve always wanted to be outside, planting and gardening. My particular interest is in conservation,” said Rondinella, who will graduate with a degree in Horticulture on Thursday, May 22. “We are entering the Green Industry at a crucial time for the environment. With the education that we have received here, we have an obligation to spread the word and use what we have learned for the betterment of the environment.”
Rondinella came to the program already armed with a wealth of knowledge that she has freely shared with her fellow students. While attending classes, she has maintained a full-time position at Longwood Gardens as a senior gardener in charge of the tropical display conservatory. Her field work and research has taken her to Europe, South America, and “as many botanical gardens as I could in the United States” and well beyond.
“I started at Ambler in Spring 2004. I transferred from the Longwood Gardens Professional Gardeners Training Program — Temple’s articulation agreement with Longwood is a tremendous asset,” said Rondinella, who will be the student speaker at the Ambler College Graduation Ceremony on May 22, which begins at 3:30 p.m. in the Learning Center Auditorium. “There are currently interns working at Longwood from the Ambler campus and I try to spread the word to all of the horticulture and landscape architecture majors — it’s a strong partnership.”
Partnership and collaboration is where the future of conservation lies, according to Rondinella. The tropical collection at Longwood, she said, includes palms, bromeliads, and cycads, an endangered species that Rondinella focused her Senior Seminar research on for the program at Ambler — she has been propagating the rare plants with the ultimate goal of sharing them with other public gardens.
“Cycads are threatened in all of their native habitats, primarily due to habitat loss. Since it is a botanical garden, Longwood primarily focuses on display, but hopefully in the future we’ll be able to establish relationships with other botanical gardens to share plants and collaborate to preserve the species,” she said. “I think the only way we will be able to preserve threatened species is by sharing with and learning from each other.”
Rondinella also teaches at Longwood in the Professional Gardener Training Program, the same program that set her on the path to completing her horticulture degree at Ambler.
“It was such a good program that I wanted to give something back. I also teach continuing education workshops,” she said. “I’m working at Longwood too continue to educate myself and to educate others to the best of my ability. My true interest is in hands-on learning and teaching.”
Rondinella is also a strong advocate of “education through travel.”
“I traveled to Brazil in January 2006 and February 2007. During the first trip, I was a chaperone for students in a graduate program,” she said. “For the second trip, I went with a group of people from the International Water Garden Society — nurserymen and others from botanical gardens — to identify flora and collect seeds that we will hopefully be growing at Longwood. Being at Ambler afforded me the opportunity to share in class the amazing biodiversity of the Amazon — I could have stayed there for months, but I was equally excited to come back and share my experiences.”
Rondinella was also recently accepted for a 3-week intensive field course in July entitled “Biology and Systematics of Tropical Plants,” sponsored by the University of Florida. The field work will cover many tropical areas in Southern Florida.
Returning to school as a non-traditional student working full-time while taking classes part-time, often with traditional-aged students, she said, was all about “setting priorities.”
“You take it one day at a time and make sure that you have a good support system here and at work — volunteers, students, co-workers. I really felt from day one that your age certainly doesn’t matter in the program — everyone was very open and easy to talk to,” she said. “It was nice that there was a lot of diversity in ages and backgrounds and that we were learning on a campus where you could see sustainable practices associated with the natural and built environment already in use. My teachers were all readily available and they made time for and had an excellent rapport with their students.”
The more she learns, Rondinella said, “the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
“I know I’ll continue to learn and I’d like to continue to teach — if I find the right program, I’d like to pursue graduate work. Right now, with so much emphasis on going green, sustainability, reduce, reuse, recycle, there are a lot of job opportunities available,” said Rondinella, who has been working in the Green Industry for 10 years. “Landscape architects are being challenged to create better, more sustainable designs. A lot of it is conservation through education — it’s a critical time to being entering the field educated.”
Rondinella believes she and her fellow students must lead by example to help themselves and others become “stewards of the land.”
“The profession chooses us. We don’t choose it,” she said. “It’s a passion and love of the environment that stays with you throughout your life.”