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Students raking dirt in the Quad

Office of Sustainability interns (from left) Alexis Figueroa, Joe Kennedy, Jake Van Wolvelear, and Elizabeth Kolze work the soil at the base of the European Purple Beech Tree. The office is just one of the units across campus that offer internships to students.

Office of Sustainability interns work to heal beloved Fell Arboretum tree

60-year-old resident of the Quad received some much-needed pampering October 8. 

“The European Purple Beech Tree is one of the favorites of many people, students, and visitors alike,” said Patrick Murphy, curator and horticulturist of Illinois State’s FelArboretum. “Our efforts today will help extend the life of the tree so it can be enjoyed for years to come.” 

Five interns from the Office of Sustainability assisted Murphy in giving the beech tree a “spa TREE-tment.” Students dug away old dirt from the roots that contain potential diseases, spread new grass seed, and covered the tree with neem oil. The oil heals the tree and makes it less attractive to insects that could injure it further. While bugs are a problem, most of the work done to the tree is designed to mitigate the damage inflicted over the years by humans. Climbing the tree to hang hammocks from it can potentially expose it to ground-borne diseases. Additionally, the tree has many carvings in its trunk.

European Purple Beech Tree on ISU's campus.

The European Purple Beech Tree is one of the most popular trees in the Fell Arboretum.

“It’s cool to know that with an hour of work, we are able to prolong its life and mitigate some of the damage that has been done through the years,” added intern Jake Van Wolvelear, a senior sustainable and renewable energy major. 

The students are part of a new professional practice internship offered by the Office of Sustainability. They meet twice a week to discuss different sustainability initiatives and participate in service projects. The tree spa idea was pitched to the interns by Murphy. 

“I thought it was a brilliant idea,” said Office of Sustainability Director Elisabeth Reed. “It was a great way for the students to provide a service to the Fell Arboretum, which is such a gift to ISU.” 

The students have personal projects in addition to those they do as a group. For example, senior sociology major Joe Kennedy is a licensed yoga instructor and hosts free yoga classes on the Quad. Kennedy only asks that participants help clean the Quad after the session is over. Senior international business major Alexis Figueroa is working with the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology to create a green office certification program that can be implemented by other offices on campus.  

“This experience has been really great and has helped raise awareness for sustainability efforts on campus and in the community,” said intern Kendall Harris, a senior political science major.  

The European Purple Beech Tree is just one of the 154 species of tree in the Fell Arboretum. To learn more about the trees of Illinois State University, check out this map listing all of the trees on campus.

Another beech tree, near Williams Hall, is due to receive tender loving care from Murphy and the Office of Sustainability later in the month, weather permitting. Murphy said these kinds of service projects are important to educate the campus community about the arboretum and its needs. 

“Strategic planning, civic engagement, and service learning projects are all currency for botanic gardens and particularly arboretums,” Murphy said. “Having students do this creates a greater level of ownership and understanding for trees and living things.” 

If you would like to get involved with sustainable efforts at Illinois State, contact the Office of Sustainability at To see more about service projects like this one, follow the office on Facebook and Instagram.