Mackenzie Albers is happiest when she’s not in the classroom.
“I like being in nature,” she said. “I want to always have a job where I could spend the whole day outside.”
She hopes that earning her biology degree will provide her the tools to do just that. Albers will cross the stage along with 1,444 other graduates at Southeast Missouri State University’s spring commencement ceremonies May 12 and graduate with a Bachelor of Science in biology, wildlife conservation option.
A Wildwood, Missouri, native, Albers transferred to Southeast in 2014 to be closer to family and to harvest the extensive resources and opportunities in the University’s Department of Biology that would reap her career dreams.
Focusing on wildlife conservation allowed her to combine her interests in the global climate, plants and what she could do to be a positive force for change and restoration.
During her two years at Southeast, she’s travelled with a team of students and faculty to Churchill, Manitoba, to study and see first-hand the effects of climate change and volunteered her time restoring the Biology Greenhouses on Southeast’s north campus.
The greenhouses have received a major facelift over the past year, undergoing extensive renovation and modernization upgrades thanks to recent efforts of student volunteers and workers, including Albers. Aging infrastructure led to the decline of both the Diversity Greenhouse and the Research Greenhouse, the latter of which was built in 1978. With the latest renovations and cleanup, including removing weeds and pests, repairing the infrastructure and ceiling, and relocating pipes, both facilities are being restored for their original intent.
Albers has been an integral part in the restorations’ success and in cultivating new foliage and flora, said Dr. Jennifer Weber, assistant professor of biology.
“She is very comfortable in that environment – caring for the plants, building new collections and making structural improvement,” she said.
In the summer of 2017, Mackenzie Albers travelled with a team of other Southeast students and faculty to Churchill, Manitoba, to study and see first-hand the effects of climate change.
For Albers, who’s had experience working in greenhouses before coming to Southeast, she saw the potential renovations and modernization could bring to both the Diversity Greenhouse and Research Greenhouse for herself and other students.
“I wanted to work with other students who have the same interests in plants and create something that would last a long time at the University,” Albers said. “In my botany classes, I learned a lot about the science of plants on a cellular level, but in a greenhouse, you focus on identifying the plants and taking care of them.”
Under her steady care, the greenhouse and its plants have flourished, Weber said.
“She’s got a really green thumb,” Weber said. “These aren’t just typical household plants either. She does the research on her own if she doesn’t know something, but she just naturally can tell when the plants are sad or need attention.”
Mackenzie has also been instrumental in mentoring her classmates, sharing her knowledge freely, not just for the betterment of the plants, but to encourage success from those around her, Weber said.
“That’s really special. Not everyone can do that,” she said.
The hands-on experiences and opportunities at Southeast allowed her to propagate her skills and knowledge, and cultivate a path towards her dream job, Albers said.
Her experiences were a key component to being offered a job after graduation as a greenhouse technician for Monsanto in Creve Coeur, Missouri, Albers said.
She’s excited to start her new job, which begins this month, because it will allow her to combine her love for working outdoors while making a positive impact on the environment.
“The efforts they’re making in sustainability are something I’m very interested in,” she said.
After a preliminary one-month training period, Albers will be responsible for operating a state-of-the-art greenhouse.
Along with maintaining general care of the greenhouse and its plants, she’ll also manage various trials and experiments, such as testing the climate conditions in which new seeds best flourish.
“It’s going to be paying a lot of attention to details, but I’ll be doing something that matters with other people who care about plants and the environment as much as I do,” Albers said. “I’m really excited to start the next chapter of my life.”