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Erin Marteal

About Erin

What were you doing prior to your degree program?

Working for Cornell Garden-Based Learning developing NYS curricula for educators to engage their students in gardening and garden-based learning. I was also an active master composter volunteer and master gardener and volunteered in the Ithaca City School District on garden-related projects.

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

Going back into a rigorous academic program with two young children after being out of the school for 10 years was really challenging. It took a full semester to acclimate; I somehow ended up with my hardest course load in my first semester.

Why did you choose to pursue the degree?

I had found my passion and calling but I knew I needed more formal training to advance my career. The Cornell MPS program was a natural extension of my experience and interests and helped move me closer to the impact I wanted to make in the world.

What did you do after earning your degree?

I won the Dreer Fellowship award and conducted research across Australia, New Zealand, and Trinidad studying permaculture in public garden settings. I was offered the position I am in now - as executive director of Ithaca Children’s Garden, immediately upon my return and have been doing that ever since!

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

The people I met, the affiliation with and resources of a world-class university, and the direct access to faculty and professionals in the field through internships and courses. Also, the ability to tailor my program to my precise interests was excellent.

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

Spending a summer interning in Durban South Africa co-developing a permaculture-training program for schools, which addressed food security issues and also connected children of all backgrounds to the value of plants in their lives.  And, getting to know faculty members and fellow grad students who remain my mentors today, including one of my best friends of all times.

What are your long-term career goals?

My long-term career goal is to make a positive impact on human and planetary health. Right now I am loving doing that through curation of a unique public garden and its programs. I am also very interested in equitable access to nature, philanthropic giving, grant making, and research.

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

I got a lot out of taxonomy and woody plants though those are less essential skills for directing a public garden. Rather than a single class, it was the confluence of many topics of study that merged into a cohesive educational experience that were the most influential on my career goals.

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

More than advice, I would nudge myself to do better with self-care and give myself permission to lean on others for support through challenging times.

The advice I give others who are exploring graduate school is to let go of a need to know how it will all turn out. Keep learning and moving towards what inspires you - the outcome will become clear as you go forward. I firmly believe there are many ways to arrive at your place and every step along the way provides tools and insights that give you your unique perspective. If only we can ease up the unrealistic pressure we put on ourselves to be able to know what the future holds. The best preparation for the future - in your career and in life - is to move closer to what you love with curiosity and openness.

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

It directly opened doors to my current role and provided great opportunities and all the tools I needed to move forward confidently. I know when I don’t know the answer (which is constantly) I have the tools and networks to figure it out.

What professional organizations are you involved in?

American Public Gardens Association; American Horticultural Society; Executive Exchange of Tompkins County and the Diversity Consortium of Tompkins County