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New garden designed by freshmen symbolizes Cornell Cooperative Extension's 100 years

On the sunny afternoon of Oct. 7, the freshman class of plant science majors set out to make their mark on campus. Their task: plant a garden outside of Fernow Hall to celebrate 100 years of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE).

"We had a rough start," admitted Elizabeth Simpson '14, one of the 13 first-year plant science majors working with four teaching assistants, who are second-year plant science majors. "Everyone had so many different ideas."

But eventually, they agreed on the theme of red flowers, including roses, phlox and daylilies, in the center, with arms reaching out to the rest of the plants to symbolize how Cornell reaches out to communities through CCE. In the background will be flowers of soft whites, greens and yellows. The students used a variety of plants materials, including small shrubs, perennials and bulbs.

The first extension office, the students had learned, was opened in 1911 by John H. Baron, Class of 1906. By 1918, 54 more extension offices were established across New York state. "We started with projects focused on agriculture, and now we are working on energy use and community issues as well," said George Preston, a senior extension associate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Currently, CCE has 1,700 employees in 55 offices.

Many Cornell professors, such has Marvin Pritts, chair of the Department of Horticulture, have extension responsibilities in addition to their teaching duties. "It beats sitting in the office," said Pritts as he dug a hole for a rose plant.

Pritts explained how the new seminar for freshman plant science majors, Horticulture 1110 -- Collaboration, Leadership and Career Skills in the Plant Sciences, helps build unity among the plant science majors, who are spread out in five departments.

"Students often work on group projects but perhaps have fewer chances to engage in the challenges of genuine collaboration," said Marcia Eames-Sheavly, who co-teaches the seminar with Pritts. "In this case, the design arose out of two class sessions. Students learned the value of listening to one another, and we believe that the resulting design really highlights an understanding of not just plants, but also, the power of Cornell Cooperative Extension's reach into communities."

Hands-on learning is an important aspect of the seminar, said Pritts. "The kids learn how to place an order, [they learn] about garden design and about plants."

The plants were sold to Cornell at a deep discount from Mark Sellew '78, who was a plant science major and now has his own nursery, Prides Corner Farm in Lebanon, Conn. According to his son, Ben Sellew '13, a current plant science major at Cornell, "He wanted to be able to give back."

Matt Murray '13, one of the TAs for the seminar, who is in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and chose the major because his family has a dairy farm, explained that the new landscape will be a big improvement from what was previously there, but it will be most impressive in the spring, when more than 50 percent of the flowers will bloom right around Commencement time.

Graduate student Grady Brimley is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.