Monthly Tree Ambassador

Get to know staff and learn what it’s like to be a tree champion at The Morton Arboretum.

Content Detail

Emily Prasad

Education Program Guide

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Emily’s favorite season at the Arboretum is whatever the current season may be. Part of what Emily enjoys about working at the Arboretum is the ability to walk the areas in all seasons, seeing the changes from each walk or hike, and from season to season.

What is the best part of your job?

Emily hears often from the students she teaches that the day they spent at the Arboretum was the best day of their school year. Being able to introduce kids to nature, trees, and the outdoors is the best part of her job.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

There are two trees that Emily is fond of. A Freeman’s maple at Lake Marmo provides an idyllic setting to sit and reflect, and it provides a good spot for turtle sightings as well. There is a bur oak on Joy Path where the Thornhill Trail crosses over that is equally as beautiful. Emily is also a fan of Crowley Marsh, as she spends time there performing her volunteer role as a dragonfly monitor. Finally, Emily is a frequent hiker and spends a lot of time on the trails even when she is not working.  The Schulenberg Prairie is one of her favorite destinations, with so much to see and so much history to learn. (Be sure to see Emily’s insider tip below!)

What do you want guests to know about The Morton Arboretum and its mission? 

Emily often speaks to kids about how the Morton family motto was “Plant Trees,” and that’s exactly what we do at the Arboretum. But we do more than just plant them; the Arboretum works to protect and care for them. Caring for trees involves so many people,  from the grounds staff to the scientists. Emily wants guests to know that we can all find a way to protect and care for trees no matter what our roles are in the world.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

For Emily, the Employee Core Value to Keep Learning is top of mind. As a part of the Education staff, one can see why that is especially important to her. But, it’s not just about helping kids to keep learning; every time Emily leads a group of students, she recognizes that there is always learning that can happen if your eyes are open and you are paying attention to what is going on around you in the natural world. One of Emily’s favorite benefits as an employee is that she is encouraged to take classes and can do so with her employee discount through the Education Department. There are unlimited opportunities to Keep Learning as an employee, which in turn helps Emily in her role leading and educating kids.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with guests?

The most fun programs are the Arboretum night hikes. In an urban, densely populated area, there are not a lot of places where you can be in the woods at night safely or legally! The night hikes allow participants to experience the Arboretum at a different time of day that they wouldn’t normally visit. And another important tip from one who spends a lot of time outdoors: No matter how hot it is, long pants in the Schulenberg Prairie are a must as protection from bugs and briars.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Emily used to be a middle school science teacher before she began working for The Morton Arboretum in 2017. When Emily is not at the Arboretum, teaching, volunteering, or just visiting, she is usually busy planning a backpacking trip. She has been to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in northern Michigan, Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia, and is headed to Isle Royale in Lake Superior in August, which is the least visited national park to her knowledge. Emily travels with a friend from junior high, and they plan three to four trips per year to satisfy their collective need for adventure.

Emily Schumacher

Research Assistant II

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

As someone who loves flowers and blooms, spring is easily Emily’s favorite season. The Arboretum has incredible collections that provide those spring blooms, such as daffodils, rhododendrons, and crabapples. Even the forest begins to awaken with spring ephemerals. Emily has a strong affinity for the magnolias as well, because it’s a conservation collection that cannot be seed banked, and since that is part of the work she is focused on in her role as a researcher, she is especially fond of that species.

What is the best part of your job?

According to Emily, every part is the best part of her job. She still can’t believe that she gets paid to do work to conserve plants! Emily speaks to having a great team, as well as a collaborative supervisor, making this a dream job for her. She values the teamwork spirit in the Science and Conservation Department and appreciates being given opportunities to lead her own projects, not only directing them scientifically but also managing the people working on the project.   

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Emily has both a favorite location and a favorite tree. Her favorite tree is the butternut, also called white walnut. There are six or seven of them at the Arboretum, and they are rare and endangered due to a pathogen that has killed off many native stands. While she is fond of oaks and does a lot of work on oaks, Emily’s first research publication was on the butternut tree that she collaborated on with the tree conservation biologist in the lab. Her favorite locations are the oak and the maple collections. The maple collection, due to its beautiful fall color, and the oak collection, because of its diversity of species. The Arboretum’s oak collection has some of the best birding on the ground; Emily has seen some of the most fascinating birds in this area. 

What do you want guests to know about The Morton Arboretum and its mission? 

The Morton Arboretum is focused on a global consortia of trees. For example, the Arboretum leads the Global Conservation Consortium for Oak, which was launched to prevent extinctions and ensure healthy oak species and populations for the future. The Arboretum is growing trees and plants that cannot be seed banked so if they do become extinct, there are trees growing on-site that could potentially save that particular species. While the grounds are a great place to walk, the grounds also hold extremely important conservation collections.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Work(ing) Together is the Employee Core Value that resonates the most with Emily. She enjoys working with her entire laboratory team and with the extended alumni that have worked in the lab in the past. Even a former postdoc collaborated with Emily on a paper she was authoring, making the study broader and ultimately, a better publication. In the Center for Tree Science, staff are always trying to be more collaborative with their work, and Emily has found that anytime she needs something from a colleague, in or out of the science department, staff are always receptive and willing to help. 

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with guests?

As a scientist, it’s not surprising that Emily’s insider tip for guests is to visit The Gateway to Tree Science, a living exhibit of the Arboretum’s research. This exhibit features many of her colleagues’ work and translates research to be fun and interesting for the general population. Much of the work done by the Science and Conservation Department is done behind the scenes, and this exhibit highlights that the Arboretum is more than a beautiful place, and that important research is taking place here. The Gateway even has a Tweeting Tulip Tree that provides scientific data from its monitors and shares photos and videos of tree life at the Arboretum. How cool is that?

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Since 2019, Emily can claim dual citizenship as a Luxembourg and United States citizen. Both Emily’s grandfather and grandmother were from Luxembourg, and after submitting the paperwork on her last visit there in 2019, she is now an EU citizen. Luckily, Emily is also fluent in French from working as an English teacher in France (French is one of Luxembourg’s official languages). She hopes to return there again in the near future to exercise her dual citizenship.

Shannon Cleary

Human Resources Analyst

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Shannon loves living in a place that has changing seasons, though if she had to pick, it would be spring, especially spring at The Morton Arboretum. Spring comes to life after months of dormancy, and she delights in the colors of the redbuds, the daffodils, the bluebells, and all of the lush green that begins to emerge, and she enjoys the sounds of the spring peepers!

What is the best part of your job?

Working with such smart and passionate people is by far the best part of Shannon’s job. While she could work in a Human Resources role at a variety of organizations, working for a mission-driven organization is very fulfilling for Shannon, supporting those super-smart people she references.       

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Just as Shannon enjoys the change of season, her favorite location on the grounds depends on the season. In the spring, Shannon enjoys the redbuds at Lake Marmo. In the winter, the Spruce Plot is her favorite location, and the Children’s Garden receives top marks in the summer. In the fall, Shannon says everywhere is her favorite! As far as a favorite tree, there are two beech trees in the Ground Cover Garden that Shannon finds spectacular. The copper beech, with its elephant skin bark, even seems to have an elephant’s eye watching as you walk by, and another is a magnificent weeping beech. 

What do you want guests to know about The Morton Arboretum and its mission? 

Shannon wants to share with guests that their experience with the Arboretum will change over time, just as it has for her. What started out as a date destination evolved into visits to the Children’s Garden with her kids, to experiencing aerial yoga in the trees, and now a place for respite and employment! Guests can be involved in the mission in so many different ways, and their involvement can evolve throughout the stages of their lives. In doing so, not only will they learn more about the Arboretum’s mission, but it will serve their active body and mind at the same time.  

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?
In reference to the best part of her job working with smart and passionate people, the Employee Core Value to Work Together highlights what it takes to run a broad organization like the Arboretum. Everyone comes together to work toward a common goal by actively contributing to shared outcomes. In Shannon’s Human Resources role, she gets the vantage point to see this happen between departments on a daily basis and actively support them as they contribute to those shared outcomes. 

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with guests?

The Children’s Garden is not just for kids! This is especially true in the summer, where beautiful and creative plantings are on display if guests are looking for a dose of color. Shannon confirmed that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy seeing the hundreds of tadpoles in Wonder Pond, having scooped some up gently in her hands right along with her kids recently. 

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

While not an extreme hiker by any stretch, Shannon typically makes hiking destinations part of her vacations. She has hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, the Milford Track in New Zealand, parts of the Appalachian Trail, and many national parks. One of her most memorable experiences was in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite, which is home to 500 giant sequoia trees. Shannon was there with her son who was turning one, and seeing him walk at the base of trees that were over 2,000 years old brought her a sense of perspective and peace. She appreciates that the Arboretum supports that important personal value for her and her family. 

Mark McKinney

Manager of Natural Resources and Collections Horticulture

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Mark’s favorite season has always been fall. He enjoys all of the smells and the sound of crisp leaves. His parents lived on a large corner lot with 21 oak and hickory trees.  He would rake the leaves every fall, allowing him to experience the season up close and personal. Mark says the oaks tell the best secrets of the woods in the fall.

What is the best part of your job?

The ability to work outdoors is first and foremost the best part of Mark’s job. Second, because Mark has been a full-time staff member at the Arboretum for more than 10 years, he has been able to see the fruits of his labor. Mark learns from nature’s teaching by seeing the changes over time that have happened from work that he started years ago. Seeing how the land changes provides insight for Mark into what he wants to tweak or how he might change a future restoration project based on what he’s learning now, or from what he’s done in the past.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Mark’s favorite location is the grassland area around P14, which he refers to as Crataegus North and Crataegus South. In the north area, he planned out the work that needed to be done, removing invasive woody plants and designing seed mixes to turn the area into a small mesic prairie. Mark and the Natural Resources Crew also did extensive work in the wetlands and surrounding woodlands. Mark has used this area as his template for other areas he’s restoring. He enjoys seeing land express itself each and every year, sometimes blooming for the first time in 10 years!

What do you want guests to know about The Morton Arboretum and its mission? 

While the Arboretum is very plant and tree centric, Mark identifies more closely with our natural areas, which are strongly focused on conservation. His hope is that in all of the Arboretum’s events, people can see the trees that are at the heart of it all. The trees are the real reason we are all here. Conservation is near and dear to his heart.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

Mark has always been curious by nature. To that end, the Employee Core Value to Keep Learning specifically resonates with him. Mark loves to read all kinds of books, not just books about the environment, but he reads books about music, history, photography, and even cookbooks! Mark has so many varied interests. His curiosity and passion for knowledge through reading help quench those desires.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with guests?

As one who tends to the natural areas, Mark encourages guests to check out the woodlands, wetlands, and prairie, and view it as a full landscape. Each area is more than a stand-alone space, They work together to form a holistic landscape. If guests walk up the old road from P14, they will see ponds and grassland, and a woodline that frames the area, as a prime example of what a full landscape looks like.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Mark’s pre-Arboretum career, and something he truly enjoyed, was as a full-time bartender. To this day, Mark will still pick up a shift from time to time when he visits his former employer in Decatur, Illinois. His signature drink was a beverage made with Southern Comfort, Amaretto, Triple Sec, and a splash of 7-Up. Patrons will still ask for that by name when they see Mark behind the bar!

Sarah Tobeck

Director of Giving Societies

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Because it symbolizes hope and resilience, spring is Sarah’s favorite season. Winter is her least favorite season and she’s glad for it to be over! Sarah enjoys seeing the redbuds in spring, and because they are only in bloom for a limited time, Sarah appreciates the opportunity to experience all of the wonders of this season here on the grounds.

What is the best part of your job?

There are so many good parts of her job, but what specifically resonates with Sarah is hearing people’s stories about their connection to the Arboretum. In her role as a development and fundraising professional, she has learned about the personal connections that many people have to the Arboretum, and then she is able to connect those stories with support for the  organization and its mission. Sarah is the happiest when she is able to make those connections between donors and the Arboretum.

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

One of the first places Sarah visited as an employee, during a tour with the vice president of collections and facilities on a golf cart, was the Spruce Plot, which remains her favorite location to this day. Hearing him talk about the location was endearing to Sarah, and she in turn has brought her kids to the Spruce Plot, where they have taken annual family photographs. The peacefulness of the area draws her in, making her feel calm and reflective. When Sarah was very new to her role, and before her official golf cart tour with the vice president, she was taking a donor out for a tour and the donor even told Sarah how special the Spruce Plot was (and how to get there too, as she is directionally challenged at times). Experiencing the beauty from both perspectives, from a guest and from an employee, has been a special experience for Sarah.

What do you want guests to know about The Morton Arboretum and its mission? 

As a fundraiser, Sarah wants to remind guests that gifts of any size to the Arboretum make a difference. In order to support the Arboretum’s important mission work into the second century, philanthropic support is very important.

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

All of the Employee Core Values resonate with Sarah, but in particular, she is on a quest to Keep Learning. The Arboretum is a great place to constantly be learning about new projects or new topics. Beyond her role as an employee, Sarah also appreciates that this value extends to her kids, not only just learning about the place, the mission, and values, but also in learning about nature in general. When her five-year old experienced one of the exhibits in Human+Nature, he commented that, to him, it looked like the sculpture was opening her heart. For Sarah, the fact that he could connect art and his perspective on the world was a good reminder to her that there is always something new to be discovered at the Arboretum, whether through exhibitions, trails, or Summer Science Camps.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with guests?

Sarah always likes to plug the Plant Clinic, because they have personally helped her when she was a new homeowner, and the staff are so knowledgeable about a wide range of topics regarding trees, plants, and shrubs. Out on the grounds, a lesser known spot that guests should visit is on Hemlock Hill, where the Troll Hideout once was; it is a great area for exploring with kids because the landscape is open and you can see for a distance and let kids explore without worrying about them getting lost.

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Sarah ran her first marathon last year for Team Arboretum. Prior to training, Sarah was not a runner by nature, maybe running a couple of miles, a couple of times a week. But her training was successful and the overall experience of being part of something of that size and scope was so amazing that she is now looking forward to her next marathon. She even inspired her husband to train to run his first marathon!

Beth Botts

Senior Writer

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Spring is Beth’s favorite time of the year. She loves the ephemeral wildflowers that bloom along the trails in the East Woods, and the first pink or golden glow in trees’ branches as they come out of dormancy and begin to bloom. Beth loves watching the landscape change week after week in spring as different plants leaf out or come into flower. 

What is the best part of your job?

Beth believes that the great people with whom she works are the best part of her job. She enjoys the capable, collaborative, and talented Marketing and Communications team. Helpful, kind, and proactive co-workers have made it easy to transition to remote work over the last couple of years. Beth is also grateful for all the folks who patiently answer her questions, share their enthusiasm and knowledge, and help with research for her writing. Her job takes her all over the Arboretum to learn from a wide array of people, especially in the Plant Clinic, the education department, science and conservation, the library, horticulture, and collections.      

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Beth has many favorite spots. One is the Ground Cover Garden near her office, where she enjoys seeing changes throughout the year as plants sprout, bloom, grow, and turn color in fall. She loves the Schulenberg Prairie and the trails through the East Woods restoration areas, including the Woodland Trail and Heritage Trail that loop around from Big Rock Visitor Station. She also is looking forward to the new Grand Garden.  

What do you want guests to know about The Morton Arboretum and its mission? 

Beth would like people who visit to grasp that the Arboretum is a museum of significant trees and a research organization, and to understand the process of restoration and the importance of biodiversity in the natural areas. She recognizes that it is the Arboretum’s job to tell those stories to guests and make them meaningful and relevant. She is glad that the institution is placing a greater emphasis on such important public issues as climate change and sustainability, and hopes that the Arboretum will find new ways to get the public thinking about those issues too. 

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?

“Keep learning” is a value that is especially meaningful to Beth. When she came to the Arboretum almost 10 years ago, she already knew a good deal about plants and gardens, but every project she works on teaches her more about nature, trees and other plants, science, horticulture, conservation, and restoration. She says that every day of working at The Morton Arboretum is an education.  

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with guests?

Many guests take the popular path around Meadow Lake, and Beth wishes they knew that the lovely plantings around the lake all are native species from the Chicago region’s prairies and wetlands. Many are plants that homeowners could grow in their own gardens. (Talk to the Plant Clinic for suggestions).

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Beth is the author of “Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio Month-by-Month Gardening: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year” (for sale at The Arboretum Store or on Amazon). Before she came to the Arboretum, she was a newspaper reporter and editor for more than 30 years, 21 of them at the Chicago Tribune including nearly a decade as its garden editor. She still writes a weekly gardening advice article, based on the expertise of the Plant Clinic and other Arboreum staff, that appears in the Chicago Tribune on Thursdays and on chicagotribune.com. Beth has been a tree lover for a long time; she was already an urban forestry volunteer with Openlands TreeKeepers when she started at the Arboretum. 

Dave Cascarano

Security Supervisor

What is your favorite season at the Arboretum and why?

Dave’s favorite season has always been fall. Aside from the fall color, Dave enjoys the transition from one season to the next. It’s not as hot and not as cold, and Dave enjoys this nice transitional time. 

What is the best part of your job?
An easy answer, Dave emphatically says that the best part of his job is the interaction with both guests and staff. With over one million guests each year and a large number of staff and volunteers, the diversity of people that Dave interacts with on a day-to-day basis makes his job unique and enjoyable. He appreciates that he is not often in front of a computer or working in a cubicle all day; his job requires that he be in the middle of all the activity taking place throughout the 1,700 acres. Dave calls it a blessing that he has had the ability to meet and work with like-minded people during his 35-year tenure. Of course, the fact that he works in a garden all day is also a benefit, and sharing common stories with volunteers and staff is rewarding.      

Do you have a favorite location on the grounds or a favorite tree?

Lake Marmo has always been Dave’s favorite spot, and having lived and raised his kids on the Arboretum’s property, Dave definitely knows all the best spots. In his opinion, Lake Marmo is one of the most beautiful spots year-round, and he’s enjoyed watching his kids play around the pond, chasing frogs, and watching them grow over time (the kids, not the frogs!). Because Lake Marmo is a bit removed from the normal foot traffic, it is relatively quiet, and one can appreciate the beauty of the landscaped terrain. Watching the sunset on the lake and seeing the redbuds in bloom in the spring are just two of the many reasons that Dave is drawn to this area. 

What do you want guests to know about The Morton Arboretum and its mission? 

The Morton Arboretum is multifaceted, and as such, it was difficult for Dave to select just one aspect of importance as it relates to the mission. In particular, Dave likes to highlight the work of the Research Program and what the scientists are doing to advance diversity in the surrounding communities, the Midwest, and the world. The Research Program is one of the core areas of the Arboretum, along with Collections and Education; it was a main focus that Joy Morton wanted to promote when he founded the Arboretum nearly 100 years ago. Dave hopes our guests understand that the Arboretum is looking for ways to ensure trees and plants will thrive in the urban environment in response to climate change for the next 100 years.

 

When thinking of the Arboretum’s Employee Core Values, which one resonates with you and why?
The Employee Core Value of Working Together resonates strongly with Dave because he understands that so many of the staff’s responsibilities have an overlapping component. If employees don’t work together in any operation, especially those that are service-oriented, no goals can be accomplished. Dave appreciates that the saying “Not my job” is not how staff at the Arboretum operate. Working together is healthy.

What’s an insider tip that you’d like to share with guests?

Come early and leave late, and from someone that lives on the grounds, Dave can attest to that advice. The Arboretum is quiet in the morning, and early risers will feel like they have the Arboretum to themselves. If guests arrive later in the day, things have quieted down again, and if they stay while the sun is setting, it is beautiful to behold. As Dave does rounds and closes up for the night, he finds it hard to send guests on their way when they are out enjoying the sunset. 

Share an interesting fun fact about you:

Though he answered that fall was his favorite season, Dave also loves winter and snow. He realizes that is contrary to what many others feel, but it’s one of the reasons he plans to relocate to northern Wisconsin after he retires. The colder it is, the more Dave enjoys the elements and being able to enjoy everything that goes along with winter including beautiful views of frozen lakes and ice fishing. Dave’s reasoning is that he can always put on more clothes when it’s cold, but can only take so much off when it’s warm (which is a good thing for all!). 

Find the full list of 2021 Tree Ambassadors here.

Find the full list of 2020 Tree Ambassadors here.