Sustainability Interns

Elise McConnell
Food Systems Initiative Intern 2015-2016 

Elise McConnell
Major: Anthropology and English, Spanish minor
Graduation Date:May 2017
Junior at the time of her internship
Mentor: Sarah Lyon, Anthropology


Independent Project Title: Community development and intercultural understanding at the Shawneetown Community Garden: Exploring garden benefits, sustainability discourses, and gardeners’ feedback
For years, anthropological and environmental researchers have studied the contributions of community gardens to education, health, community development, and sustainability; however, community gardens within institutional contexts such as universities are not as well understood (Andreatta 2015, Armstrong 2000, Ferris et al 2001, Glover 2003, Irvine et al 1999, Kingsley et al 2009, Twiss et al 2003). This paper explores the results of an ethnographic study of the Shawneetown Community Garden at the University of Kentucky, which investigated the social, cultural, and economic benefits of the garden. This community garden is particularly interesting given that it serves the residents of the Graduate and International Family Housing. Consequently, participating gardeners are multi-generational and culturally diverse. The primary research goal was to explore how the garden fostered community development and intercultural understanding. In addition, the study gathered gardeners’ thoughts about sustainability and suggestions for improving the garden. Information was collected through participant observation at garden-related events and open-ended, unstructured interviews with Shawneetown gardeners, who were selected through convenience sampling. Research results shed light on the role that community gardens can play in fostering intercultural understanding alongside community development, especially within institutional contexts


  • Compilation of feedback on the Shawneetown Community
  • Collaborating with the Food Systems Initiative working group to help prepare for the Food Systems Studies Symposium
  • Learning about interdisciplinary collaboration and working with a variety of campus community members

How has the internship influenced you or provided additional skills?
I am very grateful for the research and collaboration experience I gained as a TFISE intern.  With the guidance of Dr. Sarah Lyon, I learned about the work of the Food Systems Initiative working group and was involved in discussions about increasing food sustainability efforts on campus.  Additionally, Dr. Lyon involved me in her research on fair-trade coffee farming and the challenges that coffee farmers face.  Besides these learning opportunities, I gained fieldwork and interview experience through my work with the Shawneetown Community Garden.  Through my work this school year, I have developed a clearer idea of the work I would enjoy doing in the future, specifically working within the areas of community-building, sustainability, and education. I've also gained a better understanding of the complexity involved in initiating lasting changes for sustainability efforts.  Finally, I've made important connections with others working in one of my areas of interest--including professors, people in the Office of Sustainability and TFISE, and the other student interns. 

What's next?
This fall, I will be working as a full-time intern at Pine Mountain Settlement School through the Kentucky Scholars Internship. At Pine Mountain, I will be doing environmental education work, teaching visiting groups of students from around the country.


© 2013 Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment