In a Nutshell
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In a Nutshell

A College Senior's Exploration of Urban Forestry Careers

The North Carolina Urban Forest Council is ecstatic to welcome Emma Howrilla as our Spring 2023 intern!

Emma's enthusiastic passion for green infrastructure development, coupled with her contagious desire to learn more about the field of urban forestry, is the spark NCUFC needs to introduce teenagers and college studets to the fields of arboriculture and urban forestry.  

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Through early Summer 2023, Emma will lead you on a blogging adventure.  You can check out Emma's newest discovery about what it means to be an arborist (individual tree care worker) and an urban forester (manager of a group of trees in a human community).

Emma will post one to two blog entries each week.  Some entries will be written features only; others will be video interviews of North Carolina arborists and urban foresters, at the municipal, commercial and non-governmental levels.

Want to visit with Emma directly during blogging adventure?  Send her an email at!  She welcomes your questions, comments and your simple desire to get to know her.

This is Me!

Welcome to In a Nutshell, a blog about all things urban forestry. My name is Emma, and I am the blogger here to help you learn more about it and show you the journeys that some professionals in the field have taken to get to the careers they love!

So, a bit about me. I am a senior at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, majoring in Science, Technology, and Society (STS) with a specialization in Sustainable Cities and Communities, and minoring in Horticultural Science.  Phew! Yes, it’s a mouthful when I have to tell people that!

I grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, and have lived there my entire life. I was lucky enough to have a half-acre backyard in a suburban neighborhood, which definitely helped shape my ideas about nature.  My brother and I grew up making mud pies and soup out of onion grass and acorns. My dad taught me to be patient and quiet to watch our backyard birds and allowed me to express my creativity.  My mom taught me to be careful even with the smallest ant and helped me begin my love for gardening. It also helped that many of my family members were avid green thumbs.


Here's me as a kid! I've always loved bugs and wanted to be an entomologist when I grew up. 


This is me with a ginkgo tree on campus that I officially named "Megan Tree Stallion".

I had always been interested in architecture and landscaping, but I didn't feel like committing that much time to creative projects or as if that field was for me.  So I turned down an offer to attend Penn State for Architecture and focused on my interest in the environment. I came to NC State because I wanted to try being fully independent and go to a college where I didn't know a single person from my hometown.  It really helped that the campus is so beautiful.

Before settling on STS, I changed my major twice -- first from Environmental Science because I learned that biology wasn't my strong suit, then to Statistics, only to find that the whole realm of statistics wasn't my strong suit either.  STS is a great major with tons of freedom.  While pursuing this major I took my first horticulture class, fell completely in love with it, and turned it into my minor.  I met so many great people and had tons of amazing opportunities; not to mention the professors were some of the kindest and most passionate teachers I've had at State. In my first
semester as a senior, I took a class called Green Infrastructure, and I already knew I was going to love it.

Like I mentioned before, I always knew that I loved architecture and design, but I never realized that I could combine my passion for sustainability with infrastructure and planning. The majority of my college career has been focused on investigating how urban environments can become more comfortable, beautiful, and sustainable for the people who live in them. After all, there are 4.4 billion people living in cities around the world, so why not make these cities healthier places in which to live?  Specifically, I have been specializing in how green spaces and "walkability" impact the mental health and well-being of people in urban and suburban areas and, ideally, how we can address these issues via policymaking.

The field of urban forestry is rather new to me.  In all honesty, I didn't even know it was a thing until last year! So being able to take on this internship and this blog is something I'm really excited about. I can't wait to show all of you readers what this world looks like and share stories from the people who are making it happen.

I hope you stick along during my journey!  If y'all have any questions and comments or just want to say "Hi!", email me at Yes, it has two g’s, because ".blog" was already taken!

Meet a university arborist

Before last week's spring break, I had the opportunity to interview Wendy Williams, an arborist at Elon University. This was my first interview, ever, where I was the one asking questions, so it was a little daunting! However, I couldn’t have asked for a better interviewee.

Wendy spent her childhood exploring on and around her family’s 75-acre farm in Caswell County, NC, roaming the woods and wandering along the creeks with her dog and cousins. She spent this time exploring and unwinding in nature after a particularly stressful school day. Even at a young age, she yearned to know the names of the plant species she passed by in the woods and wished she knew the history behind what formed the land to be the way it is.

Photo credit:  Anton L. Delgado | Elon News Network | Wendy is on call after devastating storms, such as Hurricane Michael in October 2018.  In the above photo Wendy takes a break after spending hours making sure campus drains were free of debris, thereby minimizing campus flooding.

 “I loved the smell of moist earth down by the creek, and now that I live near Mebane on a busy highway, I miss the ability to be able to roam freely whenever I wanted.”

Wendy was always immersed in her parents' large vegetable garden as well as in the process of food preservation, furthering her passions in gardening and ornamental plants with the help of her mother and grandmother.

In high school, Wendy's passions still paved a path for her future as she continued to lean towards forestry or wildlife biology. She took horticulture classes during her sophomore and junior years, participated in her school’s Future Farmer's of America program, and grew to love horticulture from her agriculture teacher, Cyrus Vernon. After school, on weekends, and during the summers Wendy took time to work in a local greenhouse, coincidentally run by Mark Danielely, a now former Elon extension agent. It was here that Wendy received hands-on learning of gardening and equipment usage.

Wendy started working at Elon University soon after graduating from high school and had plans to start her own business. She soon realized that she really enjoyed working on the university's campus.  If she had continued down her original path, she wouldn't have had enough time to finish all the projects she wanted to complete on the campus. After spending 15 years as a gardener and temporarily working as a supervisor, an arborist position was created at Elon.  Wendy knew she had to take it. Apparently, Wendy's colleagues thought the same.  They told Wendy they were surpised it took her so long to ask to become the campus arborist.

Wendy continues to work as a certified arborist, an accreditation earned through the Internnational Society of Arboriculture (ISA).  This summer will mark Wendy's 30th year at Elon! (Congrats, Wendy!).  Today she is responsible for maintaining and planting trees across the campus. Her job involves training the trees to grow properly, as well as pruning and removing dead branches. Each year Wendy and her team assess all of the campus trees and create a list of which trees must come down. Additionally, she navigates the daily challenge of worrying about the safety of students, staff, and visitors due to falling tree limbs, especially after large storms. However, the challenges are not large enough to overcome her genuine love for nature and the satisfaction of transforming a landscape into a space that everyone can appreciate.

Even after working in the field for over 25 years, Wendy is constantly learning new things about the species on campus. After taking a native plant ID course through the NC Botanical Garden, she was taken aback to learn that a number of species she had been planting on campus turned out to be invasive and harmful for surrounding plants, insect, and bird species. Building off this new knowledge, Wendy now strives to remove the presence of invasive species on Elon's campus and plant only native species in the future.  

When speaking on the topic of urban forestry, Wendy expressed her desire to make sure that the habitats we are creating are less fragmented.  She wants urban foresters to create pathways for plants and animals to reach other nearby habitats.  Such corridors will help the plants and animals escape the ever-growing urban sprawl.

I concluded our interview by asking Wendy: “What would you say to young adults and teenagers interested in learning about urban forestry or wanting to pursue it as a career?”

“I think it’s a great career, and I think as with a lot of trades, particularly being on the hands-on point of view, a lot of kids have been going more into the professional areas, but there is a big need for arborists. I think urban forestry is going to expand too on a municipal level, but I would recommend that they would get as much education as they can when they’re young. And the next best thing, or the thing you should do after that is find a person that you respect that will promote you in your career and that you can continue to learn from them. And if you’re going to go into tree work, find a person that works safely and that’s interested in teaching.”

As always, if you have any questions or comments or just want to say "Hi!", email me at with two g’s :)  Stay nutty!

P.S.  Common invasive alert!  

The Bradford pear tree, also known as callery pear tree, (Pyrus calleryana), is easily detectable during this time of year, both by sight and by smell when it is flocked with white flowers that give off a fishy smell. More information about the Bradford pear tree, plus a list of other invasive plants in North Carolina, can be found here.  

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