TSU students Steve Osborne (left), an Agricultural Sciences major with concentration in Environmental Sciences, and Davia Wilson (right), an Agriculture major with a concentration in Biotechnology, with Cheekwood Plant Collections Manager Shanna T. Jones (center) during their summer internship at Cheekwood in 2018.

By Michael McLendon

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — This summer Tennessee State University is providing paid internships for TSU students thanks to a partnership with Cheekwood Estate and Gardens and Regions Bank.

According to Dr. Chandra Reddy, dean of TSU’s College of Agriculture, these internships are part of the college’s initiative to increase its number of student internships with industry partners.

“This is a great investment by Regions Bank in our students,” said Reddy.  “We place a lot of importance on these internships.  Historically, we used to send a lot of students to the different governmental agencies. Now we are branching out to a lot of industry partners. This summer we have almost forty students across the country in different organizations and companies doing internships.”

Reddy said Regions Bank is providing $25,000 this year for student salaries.

Daiva Wilson, a senior Agriculture major with a concentration in biotechnology who interned with Cheekwood last summer, said her experience at Cheekwood was eye-opening.

“I’ve never been to a botanical garden before, so just seeing the garden was a benefit,” said Wilson, who serves as an intern with USDA this summer.  “Also, I was able to see how the gardeners work with one another. They actually create such a beautiful display for members and people who visit the garden.”

Wilson’s internship at Cheekwood focused on horticulture.  She said she worked with the plant team and had the opportunity to experience the entire Cheekwood garden.  She credits Dr. De’Etra Young, assistant professor of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, with helping her secure the internship.

“The TSU College of Agriculture is really big on students presenting their goals. We have the Dean’s Scholars Program, and students with a 3.0 or higher are partnered with a mentor, which is usually a professor who does research in the lab,” she said. “Dr. Young pretty much says if you are a dean’s scholar, you should have an internship every summer.”

Young said the Cheekwood internships focus on education, horticulture and aboriculture.

“The role that I play is actually recruiting students and then internally vetting them before we send them over to Cheekwood, and then Cheekwood has their own application and interviewing process,” Young said. “For me, I believe that the experience for our students is hands-on experience that compliments what we are teaching in the classroom.”

Daniel Shaw, a senior Agribusiness major from Lamar, Arkansas, said he enjoys being a summer intern at Cheekwood.

“I am doing maintenance at the garden, like weeding, watering and planting.  Earlier on, we were transitioning from the spring annuals to the summer annuals, and we briefly started doing some plant identification for a daylily collection they have,” he said.

Shaw is considering a career in environmental sciences. He and fellow TSU student Jenna Jones, an education major at TSU, began their summer internships at Cheekwood in mid-May and will work through late July.

Although the Cheekwood internship has existed since 2017, it has had multiple funders. This year Regions Bank is playing an instrumental role in the partnership.

“Regions has longstanding relationships with both Tennessee State University and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, “ said Regions’ Senior VP and Regional Community Development and Partnerships Manager Latrisha Jemison. “This is an ideal partnership that allows us to invest in a successful program with very talented students. TSU students complete the internship with workforce ready skills and go on to acquire employment in the horticultural profession.”

Reddy said TSU President Glenda Glover initiated the partnership. “We have been sending out students as interns, and they have been paying the students for internships during the summer and during the regular semester for some time,” he said. “We are interested from an environmental perspective, with regards to botany and understanding the plants.  From their perspective, it is for beauty and environment.”

He said faculty from the College of Agriculture have also played a role in the partnership. “Our faculty have been trying to provide technical assistance on some basic things, like how to grow plants hydroponically, and how to take care of the ornamental plants,” he said.  “So there are student internships and faculty support for the public who come to Cheekwood Gardens.”

Peter Grimaldi, vice president of gardens and facilities at Cheekwood, said the internships provide students with an experience that includes a combination of direct service, working in the garden along with Cheekwood’s permanent professional staff, and project-based work.

“Public Horticulture includes the full spectrum of horticulture, and the opportunities at our operation pretty much include bits and pieces of almost any professional opportunity you can seek out in the green industry,” he said. “The interns have been very impressive, the students themselves, and if they are in anyway a representation of the young professionals that TSU is sending out into the workplace and the community, and they are, then that’s something the university should be proud of.”

Grimaldi said the botanical garden plans to have two additional internships this fall.

For more information about TSU’s College of Agriculture, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/agriculture/