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Equity Through Stories Program

Duke Gardens aspires to be a place where people can deepen their connection with the land and each other, especially those with experiences and identities that have been marginalized in our dominant cultures of outdoor learning and horticulture. In the Equity Through Stories Program, we work with Duke students to expand our knowledge of local history and people’s relationships with plants in order to include more perspectives in our gardens, facilitated programs and interpretive materials. Each semester, students in the program conduct research and then create sharable materials or plans that we incorporate into our internal reference materials and our public spaces, interpretation and programs. Some students also open or build ongoing relationships between Duke Gardens and our wider community.


Michelle Thompson (Fall 2021-Spring 2023)

photo of Michelle Thompson

Michelle is a master's student at the Nicholas School of the Environment studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation. She was born and raised in the Southeast and graduated from Clemson University, where she worked at the South Carolina Botanical Garden. Michelle works in the Equity Through Stories Program in conjunction with her position as a garden guide leading programs for children & families.

Last year, Michelle researched how plants are named and different naming conventions. She used this information to create shareable materials highlighting the original "roots" of plant names, including how names affect our experiences and vice versa. This semester, she is building on that foundation to develop training materials for volunteers that explains the colonial history of botanic gardens and how this history affects us today. Michelle wants to highlight this history while working to expand the stories we tell so the garden can better represent its visitors.


Tigerlily Kaynor (Spring 2022-Spring 2023)

photo of Tigerlily Kaynor

Tigerlily Kaynor is a Freshman in Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Tigerlily grew up on the Hawaiian island of Kauai O Manokalanipo, where she cultivated her passion for indigenous language renaissance and general reclamation of culture, space, and self. Her project, perfectly aligning with that passion, will be centered around cultivating plants for Duke’s Native American and Indigenous Student Association’s use. The project will include working on a plan to integrate the plants into the spring-summer 2023 Discovery Garden planting plan, as well as developing signage for the plants that is not only engaging and insightful for the public audience, but respectful to the plants and the populations that are in relationship with them.


Kaila Balch (Fall 2022-Spring 2023)

photo of Kaila Balch

Bio and project info coming soon!






Allison Barbaro (Fall 2022-Spring 2023)

photo of Allison Barbaro

Bio and project info coming soon!






Grace Dewyer (Fall 2022-Spring 2023)

photo of Grace Dewyer

Bio and project info coming soon!






Reyna Cardoza (Fall 2022-Spring 2023)

photo of Reyna Cardoza

Bio and project info coming soon!






Ella Dunham (Fall 2020-Spring 2022)

photo of Ella Dunham in Duke Gardens

Ella Dunham graduated in 2022 after studying health outcomes: power, community, and social systems with a chemistry minor as a B.N. Duke Scholar at Trinity College. She was also a digital marketing intern at Black Venture Foundation and publicity chair for Duke Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS). They are interested in this work to learn and teach others about agriculture and horticulture practices used and popularized by Black and Indigenous folks. Through interviews and literature review, Ella created virtual and in-person activities so children and their families can build their own connection with the plant world around them..

Take Ella's Plant Personality Quiz here.

Get Ella's Black Walnut Identification activity booklet here (to use, print and fold in half).


Amy Yoon (Spring 2022)

photo of Amy Yoon

Amy is an undergraduate student engaging Critical Food and Agricultural Studies with a Program II at Duke. Her interests in food and farming are grounded in a commitment to building up a food system that sustains the life of humans, non-humans, and the environment. They will be working on the beginnings of a seed sharing program with community partners of Duke Gardens as well as researching the stories of Asian heritage crops and creating signage for visitors to interact with in the Discovery Garden



Quinn Smith Jr. (Fall 2020-Fall 2021)

photo of Quinn Smith, Jr. in Duke Gardens

Quinn is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, majoring in public policy with a documentary studies certificate. As a documentarian, Quinn strives to challenge our misconceptions of Indigenous people by documenting a long-silenced, shared humanity.

What drew Quinn to the Equity through Stories Program was the ability to uplift Indigenous truths and to forge reciprocal relationships with Indigenous people throughout the Carolinas. Quinn does this by interviewing Indigenous people about their relationships with the land and weaving their stories into audio documentaries to be exhibited at the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. He also initiates seed-sharing and other reciprocal ventures between Indigenous peoples and the Blomquist Garden. Quinn hopes that his work will help to re-educate Duke Gardens' 600,000+ annual visitors and to create a healing space for Indigenous people.

Listen to Quinn's half-hour audio documentaries here.

Start Quinn's interactive audio tour here.

Visit Quinn's website here.


Lily Levin (Fall 2021)

photo of Lily Levin

Lily Levin (she/her) is an English major at Duke interested in the intersection between justice and storytelling. She’d like to be an immigration attorney, although she’s most looking forward to unpaid organizing work in her future communities.

For her project, Lily used interviews she conducted with Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden visitors to make signs and other interactive material. She sought to highlight cultural ties to plants and foods, the impact of colonialism on the production of crops, and  generational gardening discussed by both visitors and local farms.  


Autumn Burton (Fall 2020-Spring 2021)

Autumn graduated in 2021 with a major in environmental science and a minor in global health. She is interested in working toward methodologies to facilitate environmental justice outcomes for marginalized populations, as well as research in sustainable energy, clean technology and conservation. Autumn's projects aimed to shed light on the major impacts that people of color have had on agriculture and horticulture throughout contemporary U.S. history and to highlight connections between crop plants grown at Duke Gardens and a diverse range of cultures who have relationships with those plants.


Anna Steltenkamp (Summer 2020)

Anna graduated in 2021 with a major in cultural anthropology. Her project with Equity Through Stories began to develop reciprocal relationships with local Indigenous communities, including interviewing those interested about their relationship with plants and what kinds of collaborations with Duke Gardens they would find useful.



To learn more, share feedback or ask questions, please contact Kati Henderson (she/her) at or 919-886-3816 (calls or texts).

Opportunities will be posted to the Student Employment site any time we're hiring for this program.