To advance undergraduate and graduate students


The Garden Club of America Award in Desert Studies

For Graduate Students and Advanced Undergraduates

The Garden Club of America Award in Desert Studies was established to promote the study of horticulture, conservation and design in arid landscapes. The award, which can be in the form of either an internship or funding for a research related topic, is for advanced undergraduate and graduate students studying horticulture, conservation, botany, environmental science and landscape design relating to the arid landscape.

Students must be enrolled at an accredited U.S. college or university. While the award is intended to have a wide scope pertaining to the arid environment, preference will be given to students wishing to gain practical field experience -- specifically, planning and design for sustainability, rainwater harvesting and plant management, etc. -- through structured internships at accredited botanical gardens or arboreta.

Students wishing to intern should contact a local botanical garden to frame a plan of work that will guide both the intern and the garden staff in implementation and monitoring. This plan should include the time period in which the student will be available for internship. The student should also check with the student's advisor office to see if university credit will be given for the internship program, although academic credit is not required.  

Doctoral research field projects will also be considered for the GCA Award in Desert Studies, but will not have funding preference.

At the completion of the internship or proposed project, the student would submit a written report of achievements to both the accredited botanical garden or arboreta and the GCA.

Scholarship Information

  • Funds one or more applicants for one year at $4,000
  • Deadline: January 15
  • Contact:
    Mr. Kenny Zelov, Assistant Director of Horticulture, Desert Botanical Garden
    Phone: 480 481.8162

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Application Information

Candidates should submit the following required information to, with "GCA Award in Desert Studies" as the subject line:

  1. A current resume that includes:
    • Address, phone and email
    • Educational background including relevant education, work experiences and publications if any
    • Name of a contact person at the accredited botanical garden or arboretum where you would like to complete your internship.  Include a letter from the contact person confirming your acceptance into the program; OR
    • If not applying for an internship, a description of your proposed project
  2. A 1-2 page essay that includes the following:
    1. Your career aspirations
    2. Your specific interests in sustainability in the arid environment and what you hope to achieve through the internship if selected.
  3. Contact information for one reference qualified to describe the student's character and ability
  4. A letter of recommendation from your advisor, using the Academic Advisor Recommendation form (download form as a word document). Letter of recommendation should be completed, signed and sent to:
    Mr. Kenny Zelov
    Desert Botanical Garden
    1201 N. Galvin Parkway
    Phoenix, AZ 85008 

Dates & Award Notifications


Applications must be received by January 15.


Applications will be evaluated by a panel appointed by the Desert Botanical Garden and approved by the GCA scholarship committee. Applications will be judged on the qualifications of the applicant.


Award selection will be completed in early March. The GCA Scholarship Committee will notify the Award recipient by March 31. The Garden Club of America policy conforms with and strongly supports applicable federal and state laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of sex, disability, religion, age, national origin or sexual orientation with regard to the application for any of the scholarships The Garden Club of America sponsors.

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The Desert Botanical Garden, Administrator of the Garden Club of America's New Award in Desert Studies, is pleased to announce the 2017 winners!

Dominic Gentilcore

Tom Bulinski

I am an ecology Ph.D. student working under Dr. Scott Abella at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The Garden Club of America Award in Desert Studies supported my dissertation research working on a floristic inventory of the newly designated Gold Butte National Monument. This unique transition zone is an amalgamation of the floras of the Great Basin Desert, Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert and Colorado Plateau with the variation in substrates and climate conditions necessary to support such a diverse community.

I reviewed existing specimens from the area and found nearly 500 different taxa before fieldwork started. The funding allowed me to spend more than 30 field days this season collecting plants throughout the 300,000 acre monument. While there, I collected more than 500 herbarium specimens including more than 150 taxa that had not previously been collected. That number will continue to increase, as some specimens from this year still need to be determined. More species continue to be added with nearly every day of fieldwork. Checklists from the adjacent Muddy Mountains and Shivwits Plateau indicate there may yet be several hundred more species to collect in the monument. 

I am happy to report the Bureau of Land Management recognized the early success of the project and has awarded me $30,000 to continue the inventory through 2018. The award will allow me to hire another botanist to assist me with collecting next season. The final product will be a checklist, which will be publicly available for monument visitors. I am very grateful for the funding I received from the Garden Club of America.

John Miller

Ava Cheng

I am a junior at Arizona State University, double majoring in Sustainable Horticulture and Business. This summer I had the opportunity to participate in an internship at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix Arizona.  During the summer, I vastly increased my knowledge of desert plants and their adaptability to the arid desert region.  My time was also spent learning, planning, and carrying out a water-harvesting project that helped keep water off the trails during heavy monsoon rains.  I gained knowledge of pruning, irrigation, propagation, and much more while I was here. My plans include finishing my education and seeking out other horticultural experiences.  I hope to one day own or manage a company in the horticulture industry. I am very grateful for the funding I received from the Garden Club of America.



Cole Larson-Whittaker

Tucker Hancock

I am a current graduate student at Arizona State University, in the Plant Biology & Conservation department.  This summer, with the Garden Club of America Award in Desert Studies I have been able to begin conducting a flora of the Lower Verde River. I began my project with the thought that I would be solely collecting various species of agave to determine the genetic relationships between species with the eventual aim of establishing a conservation plan for various endangered agave. I quickly realized that a flora of an area with both agave populations as well as a high level of species diversity would have a more lasting impact on the conservation of the agave, so I chose to do a flora of the Verde River. A comprehensive flora of the Upper Verde River was completed three years ago, but little has been done in the more remote area of the Verde River between Horseshoe Reservoir and Camp Verde. This work will help to establish an ecological baseline of one of the few perennially flowing rivers in Arizona. Though I am in the beginning stages of my project, the active monsoons this year have been a boon to collecting, as the desert has turned into a relatively lush landscape. This grant has provided the resources for me to access one of the more remote rivers in Arizona, and for that, I am extremely grateful to the Garden Club of America.

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