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Learning by Leading: A New Model for Expanding Museum Impact

November 28, 2017 @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm

A conversation between:

Kathleen Socolofsky – Director, Arboretum and Public Garden, University of California, Davis

Bob Grese – Director, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, U-M


During this time of immense and sometimes disorienting change, museums are perfectly positioned to step into new leadership roles for the universities, their towns, and their cities.  Building on foundational strengths in education and community engagement, museums are poised to be the natural hub that can help people band together to identify, understand, and begin to solve the real problems that the community and nation face. This brief presentation will share the lessons that the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden has learned over the last ten years as we developed and launched our Learning by Leading program. This student-centered program, focused on step-by-step leadership training, staff mentorship, and project-based learning, helps undergraduates engage and lead a broad community of partners, donors, and volunteers to “make real change happen in the real world.” Because we are a living museum, our teaching focuses naturally on plants, biodiversity, and ecological systems. Learning by Leading, therefore, is intentionally designed to empower the next generation of environmental leaders. As we move forward to explore, test, and share our Learning by Leading model nationally, we invite you to bring your own best ideas about how we can improve and expand this program that is dedicated to “inspiring human potential to help people and environments thrive.”

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum at the University of Michigan also aspires to train environmental leaders through its student internship, work-study, and volunteer programs, including the Campus Farm.  The summer internship program, known as the “Nature Academy” strives to provide professional training for students while engaging them in caring for the arboretum and botanical gardens properties.  Following Kathleen Socolofsky’s presentation, she and Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese will compare notes on what each of their respective institutions has learned from these innovative student engagement programs.


Since 1998, Kathleen Socolofsky has served as Director of the Arboretum and Public Garden at the University of California, Davis, where she has also been Assistant Vice Chancellor in Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship since 2008. Nationally recognized for her leadership and contributions to UC Davis, Socolofsky has built university and community partnerships that have led to new gardens and innovative programming, with a major goal of transitioning her campus into a public garden, using strategies that have made the Arboretum a success. She has co-developed and currently leads the UC Davis GATEways (Garden, Arts, and the Environment) Project, which works to transform the Arboretum and campus landscapes into physical and programmatic “gateways” to engage the public and connect them with the riches of the University.

Prior to joining UC Davis, Socolofsky served as the Director of Education at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona (1985-1998), where she was Principal Investigator for a National Science Foundation grant that transformed the garden and its collections into an interactive science museum. Among her committee and board appointments, she has served on the Board of the American Public Gardens Association, receiving its 2007 Professional Citation Award. Socolofsky received an Award of Distinction in 2012 from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the first-ever Leadership Prize from the Excelerate Foundation in 2014.



Robert Grese has served as Director of Nichols Arboretum since 1999 and of the combined Nichols Arboretum and Matthaei Botanical Gardens since 2004. A long-time advocate of ecologically-based design and of the careful stewardship of cultural and natural landscapes, Grese is a faculty member in the University of Michigan’s newly renamed School for Environment and Sustainability, where he is currently the Theodore Roosevelt Chair of Ecosystem Management. Hailed by the Garden Club of America as an “extraordinary leader, designer, researcher, teacher and guide, a true Renaissance man in his field,” his focus has been on restoring urban wilds, specifically prairie and oak savanna ecosystems, integrating and connecting people to nature and fostering volunteer stewardship.

A much-published author and speaker, Grese has documented and become a leading authority on the work of early landscape designers Jens Jensen and O.C. Simonds, who pioneered the “prairie style” of landscape architecture and advocated the use of native plants. He also is considered a leader in documenting midwestern landscapes and has helped develop national landmark nominations for both the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House and the Henry Ford estate, Fair Lane.


Co-sponsored by the University of Michigan Bicentennial


Socolofsky and Grese Announcement


November 28, 2017
6:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Event Category:


U-M Museum of Art, Helmut Stern Auditorium
525 S. State St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109 United States
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