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GCA Scholarships Recipients: The Garden Club of America Award in Desert Studies


2017 John Miller

John Miller is a sophomore studying sustainable horticulture and business at Arizona State University in Phoenix. As an intern at the Desert Botanical Garden, he will develop his knowledge about desert plants, their use in different landscapes, and arid environments. He will learn about rainwater harvesting and its essential benefits in arid landscapes.

2017 Cole Larson-Whittaker

Cole Larson-Whittaker is a master’s student in plant biology and conservation at Arizona State University in Phoenix. He will collaborate with the Desert Botanical Garden to determine the genetic origins of Agave murpheyi, one of the major agricultural crops of the pre-Columbian Southwest. His research will use spatial models, state-of-the-art genetic analysis, and fieldwork to reanalyze A. angustifolia, taxonomically and molecularly, so that the genetic connection between the newly reclassified A. angustifolia and A. murpheyi can be tested to expand the phylogenetic understanding of the genus Agave.

2017 Dominic M. Gentilcore

Dominic M. Gentilcore is a PhD candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He studies in the Soil-Plant-Water Stress Interactions Lab under the direction of Dr. Scott Abella. His project is a floristic inventory of the newly designated Gold Butte National Monument (GOBU) in Clark County, Nevada. GOBU is a triple transition zone between the Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert, and Colorado Plateau. He will produce a comprehensive checklist of all vascular plants within GOBU as well as establish a set of ecological plot maps for the area to allow better protections for rare plant habitats.

2016 Tom Bulinski

Tom Bulinski is a horticulture student at Mesa Community College in Arizona, studying landscape design along with greenhouse and nursery operations. He will work to restore the xeriscape demonstration garden on campus. The xeriscape garden is a section of campus that displays native and other desert-adapted plant selections that promote the wise use of water.  Additional plant material and signage will create a better learning experience for the numerous classes that use this area as a learning lab.

2016 Ava Cheng

Ava Cheng is a student at Santa Barbara City College and working with the Garden Allies Program at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The Garden Allies Program is a research and education outreach program concerning the positive relationship between pest-eating insects in the garden and native California plants through field and literature study. As arid environments like California become drier, there is greater need to grow native plants that are adapted to less water intake. Through outreach and education with the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, she helps to educate others to recognize the “good” bugs from the “bad.” This research aims to reduce use of pesticides, lower the amount of work and maintenance required of a garden, and increase edges as well as species corridors.

2016 Tucker Hancock

Tucker Hancock is a candidate for a Master’s of Landscape Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver and an intern with the Denver Botanic Gardens. He will study desert plants with application in the designed arid landscape. He will use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to collect species of fameflower (Phemeranthus). He will map and model the environmental conditions in which particular species occur, and develop strategies for the cultivation of those plants in gardens, on buildings, and in compromised urban spaces.

2015 Alexandra Stoicof

Alexandra Stoicof is a first year Master of Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Arizona. She is interested in regional landscape architecture for the arid West, and specifically, sustainable management of water resources through creative design. Alexandra’s project at the Tucson Botanical Garden will involve water harvesting interpretation and advocacy, in addition to garden mapping and directional way finding.

2015 Molly Freund

Molly Freund is currently a junior at Arizona State University pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture while minoring in Sustainability and Urban Planning. Molly’s interests include the unique ecology and native flora of the Sonoran Desert. While interning at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, she will gain valuable horticultural knowledge and practical experience working closely with arid landscape plants.

Funded by Nancy Swanson, Columbine Garden Club, (AZ) Zone XII

2015 Cristina Francois

Cristina Francois is working on her PhD. in Entomology and Insect Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her research consists of determining the physiological mechanisms responsible for, as well as the ecological implications of, polymorphism, in the white-lined sphinx moth, (Hyles lineate). The white-lined sphinx moth is the most abundant and wide spread sphinx moth in North America. Their habitats cover a wide range of territory with variable climates and little is known about their several color and marking variations. 

2014 Aimee Pierce

Aimee Pierece, a sophmore in the competitive landscape architecture program at Arizona State University, will intern at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ. She will gain practical experience in the selection and care of pans for the arid landscape. 



Scholarship Opportunities Abound

The GCA offers 28 merit-based scholarships and fellowships, awarding more than $330,000 to 86 scholars in 2017.

For example, the GCA Fellowship in Ecological Restoration offers an $8,000 annual grant for graduate study and research at a leading accredited university in the United States. Fields of study of past recipients have ranged from forestry to applied plant sciences to ecology and evolutionary biology.

Read more about the four 2017 recipients.