HomeIonE EducatorReba Luiken: Creating new entry points to horticultural education

Reba Luiken: Creating new entry points to horticultural education

Meet Reba Luiken, Ph.D., the coordinator of Informal Interpretation at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and a 2020 IonE Educator. Last year, Dr. Luiken completed her dissertation on Community Horticultural Programs at Botanical Gardens and earned a Ph.D. in the History of Science and Technology from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Now, she joins IonE out of a desire to connect with educators across the University of Minnesota system and to learn more about environmentally-based resources outside of the Arboretum. As an IonE Educator, Dr. Luiken will focus on expanding the educational programs offered at the Landscape Arboretum. We had a chance to discuss her work and her goals for the future. 

What do you do at the Landscape Arboretum? 

I work as the coordinator of Informal Interpretation and am in charge of our free educational programs for adults and kids. I also manage and train our tour guides, teach some field trips, lead summer camps, and develop classes for adults and children to do together.

What makes informal education opportunities valuable?  

I think it is really important for people to have an opportunity to learn about things that interest them and to explore them in multiple ways. Unlike teachers, I don’t have any standards to meet or a specific discipline or subject to stick to, so I can talk about a subject in whatever way I think might be most interesting and engaging. Informal education is really just about learning. I think it helps to prepare kids – and to remind adults – to learn every day for their whole lives, not just in school. 

What does your IonE Educator Fellowship project mean for the future of sustainability? How will it make an impact? 

I hope my nature journaling classes have encouraged participants to build a relationship with the natural world around them and have helped them to notice changes in it over time. Just like getting to know a person better, when you are familiar with nature, it’s a lot easier to notice when something is wrong and to care about making it better. 

Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges when incorporating sustainability into your work? 

I suppose it depends on how you define “sustainability.” The environment is a natural part of my work at the Arboretum, but looking at the financial and social aspects of programming can be more challenging. For example, because we have reduced income from programs and visitors at the Arboretum due to COVID-related restrictions, designing programs that generate revenue has become more of a focus. I’ve had to think creatively about how to make programs I was planning to have in-person work online, too. 

Do you have any ideas for future environment-related projects you would like to work on?

I think a lot about ideas for the future and love coming up with and designing new projects. Right now, I am reorganizing our training program for tour guides at the Arboretum to allow people with a wider variety of experiences and schedules to participate. I’d also like to partner with some of our education team members who work in North Minneapolis to co-create a program that incorporates nature journaling and social justice.  


About the IonE Educator Fellowship: IonE Educators are selected from University of Minnesota tenure-track faculty, instructional staff, and adjunct faculty, who have a special interest in effective pedagogy and curriculum development. During their 15-month fellowship period, Educators pursue individual projects aimed at improving existing courses or developing new courses and educational experiences for UMN college students, K-12 students, and the general public. All projects champion the need for diverse perspectives in solving complex sustainability challenges and are supported through a partnership with the Center for Educational Innovation.

Isa Guitian is an IonE Communications Assistant and a senior working towards her BFA in Acting at the U of M. 


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