Volunteer Spotlight: Shelby Kucharski

Shelby Kucharski

In the summer of 2020 when junior Shelby Kucharski first began volunteering at the Wilmot Botanical Gardens, she was not familiar with this unique green space nestled near the east edge of the University of Florida’s main campus. Indeed, she had only just learned of its existence when her friend Taylor Wishart, who is also a garden volunteer, encouraged Shelby to begin volunteering with her.

When Shelby began volunteering at Wilmot Botanical Gardens, she had recently made a decision to change her major from biomedical engineering to plant science. Her decision to switch majors at the end of her junior year was not a necessarily easy choice to make, but after she spent some time in the gardens, and with the support of her family, she felt completely reassured that her choice was the right one to have made. As she worked with the gardener and other volunteers and learned the gardens’ history and of the existence and mission of the therapeutic horticulture program, she began to see how her lifelong love of plants, science and being outdoors coupled with a plant science major could help her attain academic, research and personal goals that benefit people and the earth’s environment.

Shelby says that even if she’s simply weeding alone in the gardens, she enjoys the activity. She also appreciates the opportunity to interact with garden visitors, and she takes pride not only in having a hand in keeping the grounds attractive but also in being able to answer visitor questions about certain garden features or plantings.

Because her hometown of Crisfield, Maryland, is very small and somewhat insular, Shelby always felt motivated to leave the area as soon as she graduated from high school. Since her father and step-mother, with whom Shelby is very close, live in Florida, enrolling at UF seemed like the most logical next step, and Shelby was very enthusiastic about it. Now, two more semesters of courses are all she needs to complete her undergraduate degree. This summer she plans to accept a research internship and also hopes to work on an urban gardening project or two. Although she will likely eventually pursue a master’s degree, she would first like to gain significant field experience. She is particularly interested in carbon sequestration research and is extremely passionate about food education, urban agriculture and sustainability.

Shelby has a delightful personality and a uniquely optimistic outlook toward life and her work and presence at Wilmot Botanical Gardens are an asset. We hope to continue to have her around as a much-appreciated volunteer until she moves on to make an even greater positive impact on the rest of the world.

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