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News Release

April 17, 2019

Therapeutic gardening experience equipping students, recent graduates

By Grace Niemeyer, communication assistant

Profession-based learning at Northwest Missouri State University is growing students’ knowledge in gerontology and horticulture, and the addition of an academic minor at Northwest will soon deepen students’ skills in those areas.

“Therapeutic gardening can be so much more than growing a garden and can include a range of nature-based activities,” Jessica Edmiston, who earned her bachelor’s degree in horticulture in December, said. “Therapeutic gardening and therapeutic garden spaces offer so much healing, inside and out. There's a reason that this modality is growing in popularity, and the certification in therapeutic gardening will be a great asset in future careers in recreation.”

Along with recent Northwest graduate Dana Burgeson, Edmiston designed a sensory garden space at the Glenwood, Iowa, campus of On With Life (OWL) last fall. OWL is a residential facility dedicated to helping people living with traumatic brain injuries. Burgeson and Edmiston introduced new plants, modified the sandbox area and added a raised garden area to enhance interaction. Edmiston said a water wall and chalk door were “exciting new destination areas.”

The experience with OWL’s Nest expanded Edmiston’s love for the outdoors, so she returned to Northwest and is pursuing a master’s in recreation resource management. She hopes to become a nature and parks interpreter or outdoor educator.

“I’ve loved Northwest since the very beginning,” Edmiston said. “This really is my home away from home, so it was hard to picture myself going anywhere else.”

Burgeson is the program manager at Lettuce Dream in Maryville, a hydroponic greenhouse that supports people with cognitive or developmental impairments. Her experience with OWL’s Nest provided the opportunity to gain more experience and confidence in her abilities.

“I had amazing mentors that helped me excel in chasing my dreams and setting me up for my career,” Burgeson said.

To fuel experiences like those of Burgeson and Edmiston, the School of Health Science and Wellness and the School of Agricultural Sciences at Northwest are partnering to provide a minor in inclusive recreational gardening next fall. The minor is designed to increase student skills and knowledge through profession-based learning opportunities to provide and maintain inclusive recreational gardening opportunities.

Dr. Sue Myllykangas, a professor of recreation who serves as the undergraduate curriculum coordinator for the parks and recreation and gerontology programs, said she likes to focus on the work students are doing.

“I feel proud,” Myllykangas said. “Proud of the students, proud of Northwest for truly focusing on student success and proud of the work of the faculty in preparing students to be career-ready, day one.”

Similarly, David Mullen, a parks and recreation management major and gerontology minor from Grain Valley, Missouri, and Byron Nelson, a senior from Ogallala, Nebraska, are completing internships with the Nodaway County Senior Center to help the organization develop a five-year strategic plan.

Mullen is completing a needs assessment of the center’s programs and services as well as determining what other centers do throughout the county. After graduating, he hopes to become a parks and recreation director.

“Northwest has prepared me well for my current and future internship,” Mullen said. “I had a class where we practiced evaluation and conducting a needs assessment. The training and coursework will aid me in being the best recreational professional I can be.”

Nelson is creating a volunteer program and writing a manual to outline procedures for helping seniors. He is moving to Dallas, Texas, after graduation this May for a residency program with the National Benevolent Association, an organization within the Disciples of Christ church dedicated to creating communities of compassion and care.

“I have no doubt the rich level of education that I’ve received at Northwest will not only help me to find a great job, but will also help me excel in the work that I will do,” Nelson said.

The gerontology minor and certificate program is steadily growing and open to all majors. Gerontology teaches students the social and behavioral aspects of aging as well as physical changes and maintaining health and wellness practices.

“It’s helping students realize that they will be working with aging adults and that having an idea about the changes a person goes through later in life can assist them in doing a better job serving all clients and participants,” Myllykangas said.  

To learn more about Northwest’s gerontology program, visit the Aging Studies program page.


Dr. Mark Hornickel
Administration Building
Room 215