Lara Hsia

Lara Hsia


Major: Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity (Minor: Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology)

Co-coordinator, Habitat Horticulture 2021-2023; Intern, Habitat Horticulture 2021

Lara Hsia


Working as an intern in the Habitat Horticulture team during my second year was a bright spot during the peak of the pandemic. Coming to UC Davis, I was pursuing an interest in ecology, and at the same time had fallen in love with the green spaces across campus. I knew that I wanted to become involved in the cultivation of those ecologically functional spaces. This led me to find the Learning by Leading program at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. My time as an intern gave me valuable knowledge, exposure to independent project development, and sparked an interest in restoration and horticulture that would shape my undergraduate trajectory.

During the next two years as a co-coordinator for the Habitat Horticulture team, I was able to develop my leadership, communication, and teaching skills. Under the guidance of my staff mentor Rachel Davis, I learned to balance assertiveness and strong leadership with developing deep interpersonal bonds with my team. I gained confidence in my public speaking abilities, which was essential for our team’s many outreach activities. One highlight of these was the annual Honey Festival, an event frequented by more than 35,000 visitors. Our team spoke with guests about the importance of native gardens, supporting pollinator diversity, and how we can make a difference as a community. I was so proud watching our interns communicate these difficult topics to such a large and diverse public audience - I felt lucky to have been able to watch their growth through this program and help foster their skills.

Being a part of the Learning by Leading program helped shape my career goals and improve my understanding of how I can apply my skills to life after college. Outside of the Arboretum and Public Garden, I have pursued a career path in field-based ecological research for the last four years. This academic side of my life benefited from the highly transferable skills that I developed as a Co-coordinator. For example, my public communication training at the Arboretum aided in my scientific communication for presentations, posters, and writing. Seeing the career paths of other Learning by Leading students and faculty also opened my eyes to a broader application of my scientific interests. I saw how I could transform my experience in academia to real world impacts on California’s landscapes. I’ve also been fortunate enough to mesh my academic and public service interests into a presentation at the 2023 California Society for Ecological Restoration (SERCAL) conference alongside Rachel. This was an incredible opportunity to speak professionally about the work I’m proud to do with the Learning by Leading program.

My involvement with this program and the Habitat Horticulture team transformed my undergraduate experience and shaped my outlook on the future. Before interning, I hadn’t considered restoration and horticulture as potential career directions. Now, I see these fields as opportunities to turn my research background into tangible impacts for local flora and fauna. I also grew into more of a leader than I could have foreseen. I now find joy in public speaking, team leadership, and forming connections with our many visitors, all of which would have scared me as a college freshman. I am grateful for the project development and execution skills that this program allowed me to develop, and I am incredibly excited to apply them to a career in ecological research and restoration. Most of all, I am grateful to have formed such close bonds with my mentor, Rachel Davis, my fellow co-coordinators, and our dedicated teams of interns.

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