My internship at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Daniela Leal

Name: Daniela Leal

Hometown: Miami, Florida

Major: Environmental Studies 

Where did you intern? What did you do there? I intern at the beautiful Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Here, I started out doing lab work; I made plant medium, transplanted orchids through their stages of growth and deflasked mature orchids. As my internship progressed, I also took on some education-based roles, such as participating in STEMlab and the Discovery Program at Fairchild. Both programs are aimed at teaching schoolchildren about orchids, endangered ecosystems, climate change, plant phenology and sustainability.

How did you get your internship? I obtained my internship through the FIU Tropics internship program. Nina Jungman, the program coordinator, has been amazing at reaching out to potential candidates and in helping initiate selected candidates to their respective internships.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? My advice is to reach out to your mentors first if they have not done so already. Ask them questions about what to expect and how best to prepare for the first couple weeks. Once you get settled into the internship, check to see if there are any other responsibilities/activities that you can be a part of. You want to be able to make the most out of your internship.

What projects did you work on? The main project that I’m working on at Fairchild is the Million Orchid Project. Its objective is to propagate and plant a million native orchids across Coral Gables. The purpose of this project is to gradually restore the native orchid population to pre-settlement numbers, before land development in the 20th century wiped most of them out. The first 2-3 years of orchid propagation is done within Fairchild labs where I work. Then with the help of Coral Gables residents, we are able to distribute the orchids across the community.

How did your internship connect back to your coursework? Since many of the courses I take are related to biology and plant/animal life, I was able to apply what I learned in school to the educational aspects of my internship. Likewise, much of the new information I learned at Fairchild popped up in class lectures.

What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship? For three Saturdays, Fairchild participated in the Coral Gables Farmer’s Market during March. I had the opportunity to help out in our stand by distributing orchids and spreading the word about the Million Orchid Project. There was so much food to taste and so many dogs to pet!

What did you like most about your experience? What I like most about my internship in general is that it involves the rest of the community. It’s nice to work in a lab with an exclusive team of people, but the success of the Million Orchid Project also lies in the volunteers coming together to multiply our reach and progress many times over.

What did you learn about yourself? I’ve learned that I really enjoy working in biology labs. I used to think that I only liked working alone, but this internship has allowed me to enjoy working with others as well.

How did the position increase your professional confidence? Working at Fairchild has given me more direction in my path to finding a career. I’m figuring out what I like and what I don’t, and I found another wide range of options for me to take. Nothing can prepare you better than experience, and that is exactly how I feel about my internship.

How did you expand your professional network? I’m slowly making friends with several program directors and supervisors at Fairchild. Working closely with them gave me the chance to learn more about their own experiences and gain inspiration from them. I plan to keep returning to Fairchild as a volunteer after my internship ends, so luckily I can continue strengthening my relationships with them.

How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?” I’ve learned that the real world will not wait for anyone. I want to prove to myself that I can take what I want before the opportunity flies past me. Watching my supervisors interact with community members and keeping myself active in the project is helping me realize that I can eventually assume a similar role and establish myself in something influential.