Emily Larsen

UW-River Falls senior Emily Larsen was recently named the Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year for work she did during a three-month internship in Colorado last summer. Larsen was chosen as the top intern nationally among those taking part in the prestigious intern program coordinated by the American Floral Endowment. Photo courtesy of Emily Larsen.

Student awarded top national internship honor

Emily Larsen lauded for her passion working with flowers, other plants

May 18, 2023 – When Emily Larsen headed to Peyton, Colo., for an internship at a major greenhouse last summer, an award was the last thing on her mind. 

So when Larsen learned recently that she was the recipient of the Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year Award – a national award – she was more than a little surprised.

“I got an email and then a phone call notifying me that I had won this award and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize I had entered,’” Larsen said with a laugh. “I was very surprised.”

The award is given annually by the American Floral Endowment (AFE) and recognizes the top intern taking part in a horticulture internship program across the U.S. Students who successfully complete their internship and complete a written report and produce multiple video blogs are eligible for the award. 

Larsen finished her report and videos, she said, but didn’t realize until she won the award that those actions could lead to that honor. 

“I did that work simply because I was interested in the work I was doing,” said Larsen, a senior horticulture major from Hudson. “To actually have won this award, it is an amazing feeling.”  

As part of being named the top intern, Larsen will attend Cultivate, a major national horticulture trade show. This year’s event is in Columbus, Ohio, July 15-18. 

According to the April 26 AEF press release, Larsen’s hard work and passion for horticulture stood out among the many other AEF interns working across the country. 

“This year, one intern stood out from the rest for her limitless passion, drive, and curiosity in horticulture, which she exemplified in her internship,” the release said of Larsen.

Larsen certainly is passionate about all things horticulture. During her three-month internship at the Altman Plants in Colorado, she was surrounded daily by plants of all shapes, sizes, colors and varieties and took part in a wide variety of jobs. 

She spent time in each part of the business, doing everything from propagating and growing plants to controlling pests in innovative ways. She measured soil conditions to determine how to augment plant growth and measured the height of chrysanthemums to determine their growing conditions. She even learned how to weld.

“I saw so many different aspects of how a large greenhouse operates,” Larsen said. “There is so much that has to happen, in a detailed way, for it all to come together.” 

Larsen got interested in flowers and other plants in high school when she took on a leadership role in a floriculture team that was part of the Future Farmers of America Club she was president of. When the school built a greenhouse, she cared for plants there.

Her interest in plants was further piqued when her high school team advanced to a national horticulture competition. When she toured the greenhouse at UW-River Falls and met Horticulture Associate Professor Sonja Maki, she knew she wanted to attend school there.   

Since enrolling at UWRF, Larsen has been a standout student, taking part in research and learning diligently, Maki said. Larsen’s passion for horticulture shines through in her work and how she continues to learn more about the subject, Maki said, calling Larsen “a very good ambassador for our (horticulture) program.”

“It’s competitive to even get one of these internships,” Maki said. “And then to be chosen as number one in the nation is a really big deal.” 

In her quest to learn more about horticulture, Larsen has been chosen for another prestigious internship this summer with Ball Horticultural Company. Her internship is in Chicago and she will work in plant pathology. Larsen’s experiences during last summer’s internship and since have led her toward wanting to work with plant genetics and diseases.  

That realization has her thinking about graduate school, she said. But first she is excited to learn more about plants this summer and then during her senior year at UWRF. 

“No matter what I do, it will be about plants,” Larsen said with a smile. “Plants are so important to our world in so many ways. And working with them is what I love to do.

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