If you encounter issues loading this site, please refresh the page by using Ctrl + F5 if on Windows or Cmd + Shift + R if on Mac.

Adult Opportunities

Women and the Environment Speaker Series

Celebrate the contributions women have made to the natural world through conservation work, science, advocacy, and education during this month-long series at The Morton Arboretum in honor of Women’s History Month.

Content Detail

Though historically underrepresented in environmental fields, women—past and present, and from a diversity of backgrounds—have overcome barriers to pursue their passions and leave a lasting legacy for the natural world and for the women following in their footsteps.

Join The Morton Arboretum each Friday in March as guest speakers share about their work on behalf of nature and the stories of the women who inspired them.

Featured programs

Dr. Wendy Makoons Geniusz, professor of decolonization and indigeneity

Dr. Wendy Makoons Geniusz is a Bear Clan, Cree, and Métis woman, whose mother’s family comes from the Pas, a Cree reserve in Northern Manitoba. Her father’s family is Polish. which is why she has that awesome last name. Makoons has worked as an Ojibwe language teacher for more than two decades and is currently working for the Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Wisconsin on a language revitalization project.

Makoons is also professor of decolonization and Indigeneity in the department of sociology at York University in Ontario. Among her publications is the book Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive: Decolonizing Botanical Anishinaabe Teachings. She is the editor and Ojibwe language contributor to Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask: Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings, which was written by her late mother, Mary Siisip Geniusz, and illustrated by her sister, Indigenous artist Annmarie Geniusz.

Tanisha M. Williams, postdoctoral fellow in botany

Tanisha M. Williams is the Richard E. and Yvonne Smith Postdoctoral Fellow in Botany at Bucknell University. Her dissertation research examined the impacts of climate change on plant species throughout South Africa. Her postdoctoral research elucidates the role Aboriginal peoples have on the movement and maintenance of plant species and examines how biogeographic barriers impact species distributions in Australia. She also uses genomics methods to update the conservation status of rare plants throughout Pennsylvania.

Dr. Williams has extensive science communication and policy experience and is the founder of Black Botanists Week, a campaign to amplify diverse voices in botany. She completed her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut in 2019.

Cindy Crosby, author and naturalist 

Cindy Crosby is the author, compiler, or contributor to more than 20 books, including The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction, co-author of Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit, and author of Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural and Cultural History (Northwestern University Press, 2020). She is a prairie steward at the Schulenberg Prairie and Nachusa Grasslands, and she coordinates dragonfly monitoring programs at both sites. She earned a master’s degree in natural resources at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point.  She blogs each week and teaches natural history and trains naturalists in the Chicago region. Find out more from her professional website.

Rita Hassert, library collections manager for The Morton Arboretum

Holding an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois, Rita Hassert has been on the staff of the Sterling Morton Library since 1986. An avid gardener and researcher, she finds herself keenly interested and engaged in the intersection of gardens, people, information, community, art, plants, technology, and libraries. Founder of the library’s book discussion group, Leafing Through the Pages, and coordinator of the Arboretum’s Chamber Concert Series, she believes in the profound impact of The Morton Arboretum.

Heather Lynch, gardener, educator, conservationist

Heather Lynch is passionate about local, seasonal food and has been dedicated to using her backyard to grow much of her own food for the last nine years. She is currently a conservation ambassador for the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network. She and her husband, Dylan, have been growing their small homestead, Green Haven Gardensin Brooklyn, Wisconsin, with hopes of providing food for themselves while also being good stewards of the land.

With a degree in molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Lynch is a certified Wisconsin Master Gardener and enjoys volunteering at a food pantry garden, where she teaches youth groups how to grow food that is donated directly to local food pantries. Lynch uses her gardening knowledge as an active leader and educator in the Green County, Wisconsin–based group Soil Sisters, and through gardening consultations and workshops.

Leah Penniman, co-executive director and farm director, Soul Fire Farm

Leah Penniman (all pronouns) is a Black Kreyol farmer, mother, soil nerd, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY. She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2010 with the mission to end racism in the food system and reclaim our ancestral connection to land. As co-executive director and farm director, Penniman is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs, including farmer training for Black and Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for communities living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Penniman has been farming since 1996, holds an MA in science education and a BA in environmental science and international development from Clark University, and is a member of clergy in West African Indigenous Orisa tradition. She trained at Many Hands Organic Farm, Farm School MA, and internationally with farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Mexico. She also served as a high school biology and environmental science teacher for 17 years. The work of Penniman and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by the Soros Racial Justice Fellowship, Fulbright Program, Pritzker Environmental Genius Award, Grist 50, and James Beard Leadership Award, among others. Her books, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land (2018) and Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists (2023) are love songs for the land and her people. 


Your support is vital to the Arboretum, where the power of trees makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Make a gift