Student Highlights: N. Barbara Conolly

Photo of N. Barbara Conolly

Barbara Conolly at the Cornell Plantations' arboretum.

Major: Plant science, horticulture concentration
College: Agriculture and Life Sciences
Hometown: Fairport, N.Y.

Why did you choose Cornell?
After a career in the insurance industry, I decided to start over and pursue a career that included my passion for plants. It began by training as a Cornell master gardener, then earning an A.A.S. degree in horticulture at Finger Lakes Community College. Professor Nina Bassuk agreeing to be my adviser was instrumental in my decision. At 48 years old, I sold my house of 20 years, closed the landscape business I had started and moved to Ithaca to study plant science.

Main Cornell extracurricular activity – why is this important to you?
My five-month internship with Cornell Plantations [the arboretum, botanical gardens and natural areas of Cornell], where I helped to plan "Judy's Day," a huge public event featuring trees that attracted over 1,500 guests. I designed posters and fliers, organized our materials into themes and recruited volunteers. Also teaching plant programs to young children and designing a tree lesson plan for teenagers to prepare them for national competition.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most?
The encouragement of my husband and sons, ages 26 and 20. A family makes many sacrifices when Mom is a student. After a year of commuting on the weekends, my husband and 20-year-old have moved here with me.

What Cornell-related scholarships did you receive?
The Porthouse Foundation Scholarship, the Melvin B. and Helen K. Hoffman Scholarship, and the William H. Stimming Scholarship. This support was critical to my ability to come to Cornell.

What was one of your greatest challenges attending Cornell?
The biggest challenge I faced at Cornell was the discrepancy in age between my classmates and me. It's funny to bring home friends that are my sons' ages. (Strange for them, too!) We are really not that different, though. Most days I felt 20-something again ... until I looked in the mirror!

While at Cornell, what other accomplishments/activities are you most proud of?
The 2006 Pre-Orientation Service Trip, where one of the leaders asked if I was checking in my son or daughter. Keeping up with my fellow volunteers, mostly 18-year-olds, helped to build the confidence I would need to be successful at Cornell.
As a CALS Ambassador, it was gratifying to help ease some parents' worries through my own experience as both a parent and a current student.
My undergraduate research project on the salt tolerance of hydrangea.
My final project in The Art of Horticulture course, a series of ultraclose photographs of tree bark, which were displayed in Mann Library and expressed the culmination of my appreciation of the art and science of horticulture that I have learned.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?
Studying public garden management at the graduate level at Cornell with a fellowship I have been awarded. I hope to eventually lead a public garden.