Volunteer Spotlight: Persis Desai

Persis Desai

Volunteer Persis Desai first heard of Wilmot Botanical Gardens (WBG) during her freshman year when her Introduction to Plant Science course instructor, Erin Alvarez, took students on a tour of the grounds and greenhouse here. It was at this time that Persis also learned of the therapeutic horticulture program offered at WBG. Although she knew she was interested in a dual major undergraduate program focusing on plant science and pre-med, Persis was not quite certain at the time how these two interests might be effectively combined. Once she heard about the WBG therapeutic horticulture program and its participant groups, she began to see how her two academic interests could logically come together.

Persis developed a love of plants while she was a girl living in southern California. She specifically recalls regularly attending the annual Coronado Flower Show in Coronado, California, with her family. Because her family moved around a lot, they found that keeping plants in pots was a good way to remain mobile while still participating in an avocation they were all interested in. Persis states that learning to grow plants at home helped to cultivate her greater interest in plant sciences, and she began volunteering at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens in Port St. Lucie, Florida, after her family moved to the area several years ago.

In addition to her love of plants, Persis also takes great pride in accomplishing hands-on projects. After her first visit to WBG, she recognized an opportunity to not only make use of the gardens and its programs within her academic goals but also to earn volunteer experience in an outside, natural setting. Whether she is assisting therapeutic horticulture program participants in the greenhouse or weeding in the gardens, Persis is happy that other people benefit from her efforts. And even though the therapeutic horticulture program has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Persis remains appreciative that she is able to participate in a volunteer capacity that gets her outside and keeps her in touch with nature. She especially enjoys the frequent interactions with garden visitors who stop along their walks to tell her what nice work she’s doing.

Other volunteer experience for Persis includes time spent during the summer as an assistant for the admitting department at the Cleveland Clinic Martin North Hospital in Stuart, Florida. She volunteers during the academic year for a new UF student group called Health Education and Literacy Organization (HELO) “established for the purpose of bridging the health literacy disparity in local and national communities and furthering health education”. HELO volunteers edit and translate medical documents for non-professionals so that they are easier to read and understand. Persis is also the president of the UF Agronomy Soils Club.

However, it’s her experience at WBG which has helped Persis to further appreciate green space within communities, to recognize the positive impact that the gardens have had on the UF campus and to provide some insight into how she can bring her two academic interests – plant science and pre-med – together. She sees WBG as a needed area of peace and quiet where staff, visitors and patients can go to relax and get away from the stressors of work and life. This understanding coupled with her discovery of WBG’s therapeutic horticulture program, whose mission is “to improve the quality of life of individuals with special needs through gardening and advance empirical research on the value of therapeutic horticulture,” is what helped Persis to realize exactly how the study of plants and human medicine can work together.

An internship at WBG during the winter/spring semester of 2021 will keep Persis on track for graduation in May 2021. Thereafter, she plans to enter medical school.

Shannon Fickess
Business Manager, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine