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Barbara Conolly

About Barbara

What were you doing prior to your degree program?

Having spent 20 years in the insurance industry, I began exploring my love of gardening. I became a Cornell Master Gardener and soon after opened a small gardening business. I knew I needed more education, so I enrolled in an A.A.S. program at Finger Lakes Community College. My professors there encouraged me to apply to Cornell, which I did, and, at the age of 50, I finished my Bachelor’s Degree at Cornell in Plant Science and then my MPS in Horticulture.  

What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in order to participate in your degree program? 

Gaining the confidence that I could do it.  

Why did you choose to pursue the degree?

I know the impact that gardens have on the human condition, especially, public spaces. I wanted to be a part of an industry that raises the quality of life through providing outdoor spaces that are both beautiful and educational. 

What did you do after earning your degree?

My first position out of school was to redesign and manage the landscape at Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod, eventually leading to opening my own design business.

What are the strengths of your program, in your opinion?

Being able to design my studies within the parameter of my program. Then, with the resources at Cornell, being able to reach out to all the expertise available for guidance, course study, and advice. Using the assets from the Johnson School, ILR, and CALS, I was able to effectively synthesize my studies.

Perhaps the most important strength is the network of people with whom I’ve developed deep relationships and professional affiliations.  

What were some of your most rewarding moments from your time in the program?

My internship at the Naples Botanical Garden was amazing. Seeing a garden literally grow from a sandbox to an intricate garden was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The internship gave me an understanding of the mechanisms required to build a sustainable landscape.

I also loved the opportunities I had to teach my peers, undergraduates, and children in the Ithaca community. I was honored to receive recognition for it.

What are your long-term career goals?

Designing a park to honor Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists of his time has made me appreciate the needs of underserved communities.  I’m aiming to transition the management and eventually ownership of my company to my son so that I can focus on pro-bono design for these communities.

What courses stand out as most helpful for your specific career goals? 

Designing the Urban Eden is definitely a standout, but so too were courses on design history and preservation. It’s worth noting that having the Cornell Botanic Garden on campus was a perpetual classroom, and much learning took place in and around it.

What advice would you give to your younger self embarking on the journey of graduate school?

Mostly, to just be present, be bold, and appreciate those on the journey with you.

How did your professional master’s degree program experience change you, both personally and professionally?

The explorative part of the journey opened me to stretch my thinking. It taught me independence and gave me confidence to compete in a male-dominated industry.

What professional organizations are you involved in?

Ecological Landscape Alliance; International Society of Arboriculture; Cape Cod Landscape Association and Cape Cod Women’s Association