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GCA Scholarships Recipients: The Garden Club of America Zone VI Fellowship in Urban Forestry


2017 Benjamin Breger

Benjamin Breger is a master’s student in landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. His project is titled “Tree Survival in the Urban Landscape: Nursery Treatment, Site Conditions, and Stewardship.” Interested in the functionality and aesthetics of urban vegetation, he will examine the socio-ecological factors that impact the survival of urban trees such as nursery treatment, site conditions, and level of human stewardship. His field study will take place in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where thousands of trees have been planted over the past three years as part of a statewide urban greening initiative. Providing more accurate and localized data on urban tree survival will allow forestry professionals to better plan greening initiatives and assess the benefits of large scale urban tree planting campaigns.

2017 Nancy Falxa Sonti

Nancy Falxa Sonti is a PhD candidate in the Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland in College Park. Her project is titled “Socio-Cultural Ecosystem Services of Urban Forests.” She will conduct interviews with Baltimore residents to compare the perception and use of forest patches on vacant land with those of city parkland in neighborhoods with varying levels of income. Her research will assess qualitatively whether these factors affect the socio-cultural ecosystem services of Baltimore’s urban forests and the degree to which these urban green spaces are viewed by nearby residents as amenities or disamenities.

2017 David Bañuelas

David Bañuelas is a master’s student at the Center for Regenerative Studies at California Polytechnic University in Pomona. In 2016 he started the Southern California Allelopathic Flora for Eradication (SAFE) project to study allelopathic trees that occur in the urban forests of Los Angeles. Allelopathic plants emit phytotoxins that inhibit the growth of weedy plant species. His research will test how mulch from various trees can reduce the growth of invasive plant species to aid in habitat restoration. The results of his research may encourage the development of allelopathic-based pesticides and further our understanding of weedy species that are susceptible to allelopathy.

2017 John Roberts

John Roberts is a PhD candidate in environmental horticulture at the University of Florida in Gainesville. His project is titled “Semi-automatic Street Tree Inventory and Assessment from Mobile Terrestrial Remote Sensing.” As laser scanning and photogrammetric data become more common, these datasets have been applied to monitoring urban forests. Using data collected from groundbased and unmanned aerial vehicles, Roberts creates three-dimensional models of urban streetscapes. These models are being tested for semiautomatic mapping and measurement of street trees, potentially leading to partial updates to existing urban tree inventories. Techniques to detect structural stem defects (i.e., lean status, low taper, etc.) from these datasets are also being developed.

2016 Carly Ziter

Carly Ziter is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Using a custom-built mobile temperature sensor, urban tree data, and high-resolution images, she is studying which features of the urban forest best control temperature in Madison, WI. Do only large forested areas cool off the city, or can street trees fill this role, too? How much added benefit do trees give compared to grass, or other plants? She will determine whether the consequences of the city’s parking lots can be balanced by increasing the benefits of its parks. Her research will inform urban forest management to offset the negative economic, health, and lifestyle consequences of warming cities.

Funded by Casey Trees, Washington, DC, Zone VI

2016 Christopher B. Riley

Christopher B. Riley is a PhD candidate in the Department of Entomology at The Ohio State University. His project is titled,  “Just how Valuable are Exotic Trees?” He will examine the arthropod conservation value of the urban forest found across Cleveland’s network of more than 20,000 vacant lots spanning over 3,300 acres. Using a variety of arboreal sampling methods, he will assess variation in arthropod herbivore and predator diversity and abundance across the most common native and exotic tree species in order to better understand their ecological role within the broader urban ecosystem. His research will inform natural resource managers and city planners of the value of this largely ignored form of green space.

2016 Lauren Burns

Lauren Burns is pursuing a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from the School of the Environment at Washington State University, Vancouver. As part of the Hydrology, Ecohydrology, and Landscape Dynamics Lab, her research will investigate the ecosystem benefits of Portland, Oregon’s urban street tree community. She will assess the ability of deciduous and evergreen trees to mitigate urban heating of air as well as storm water runoff. This study will promote urban cooling and the protection of sensitive aquatic organisms.

2016 Rachel M. Grinwis

Rachel M. Grinwis is a student at Michigan State University where she is majoring in Horticulture with an emphasis on Landscape Design and minoring in Urban Forestry. She will test the resilience of a variety of tree cultivars to learn which will perform best in urban environments. She is monitoring twenty trees that were planted in two different locations in Detroit, MI. The project focuses on the best cultivar selection for trees in urban environments that can withstand climate change or problematic planting sites.

2015 Christopher Nytch

Christopher Nytch, Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Science, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, wins the Fellowship for a second year for his research in an understudied area—tropical urban forests. He is researching the potential for storm water mitigation by urban forests in tropical urban watersheds. In 2014 he collected original data on the partitioning of rainfall by tree structure in the Rio Piedras watershed. In 2015, he will look at the collective role of urban forests and the amount of territory they cover from several geographic positions in San Juan. An immediate goal is to incorporate forests and other green infrastructure into urban landscape design to control flooding.

2015 Jessica Debats

Jessica Debats is a doctoral candidate in Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. Her dissertation, “Seeing the City for the Trees: Public Space, Climate Adaptation, and Environmental Justice,” examines how New York and Los Angeles used public-private partnerships to mitigate the urban heat island through urban forestry, particularly in low-income, low-canopy neighborhoods. Using remote sensing, planting records, tax records, census data, and historical aerial photography, Jessica will analyze how the evolution of each city’s built environment shaped the plantings in public vs. private space and low vs. high income neighborhoods.

Funded by Casey Trees, Washington, DC, Zone VI



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.