SIUE alum brings a diverse set of skills to instructor, gardening position

Lindley Ballen is combining her passions: working in the outdoors, gardening and teaching.

SIUE alum Lindley Ballen is a garden coordinator and instructor at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. She graduated from SIUE with a master's in biological sciences in December 2014. (Photo courtesy of Lindley Ballen)

The SIUE graduate recently moved to the Pacific Northwest after accepting a position as the Learning Garden coordinator at Umpqua Community College’s Woolley Center in Roseburg, Ore. There she mentors students on gardening and physical science.

“She likes being outdoors — not just sitting in an office or something — she likes being out,” said Professor Peter Minchin, Lindley’s former advisor. “She likes working with plants — taking people around the garden.”

Ballen cultivated her teaching skills as a lab teaching assistant while earning her Master’s in Biological Science from SIUE. Department members found that Ballen had a talent for teaching, Minchin said. In addition to serving as instructor for Biology 150, Ballen was a mentor to undergraduate students during weekly lab sessions in Science Building West.

“She had really good social skills,” Minchin said. “She’s a really friendly, outgoing person. That’s why she was so good at the community garden and teaching. She was a good influence on the department.”

Ballen also helped maintain the Biology Department’s greenhouse, planting tomatoes, squash, herbs and other produce. While attending graduate classes, she organized fundraisers for the greenhouse and the department’s garden.

Ballen joined the Biological Sciences department after moving to the Edwardsville area with her fiancé, Marine Corps veteran Joseph Hession, in the spring of 2013. Ballen earned a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, Technology and Policy from California State University in 2010.

For her master’s project, titled “Evaluating the success of bottomland forest restoration in the Upper Mississippi Valley,” Ballen spent a year traveling to different locations along the Mississippi River and its tributaries where she measured the effectiveness of the Army Corps. of Engineers’ forest restoration project.

The Corps. used dams to raise the water level to make boat navigation easier along the Mississippi, but flooded the surrounding lands. The Corps. began a forest restoration project more than 20 years ago after purchasing the flooded areas near the River. Ballen, working with graduate student Paul Le, Minchin and  professor Rick Essner, created plots on 11 restoration sites along the river to measure the growth of different species of flood-tolerant oak trees, such as pin oak, pecan and hickory.

Often Ballen had to wear protective gloves and had to wade through water to get to the sites. Minchin said Ballen also dealt with hot weather, insects and poison ivy. During a flood in 2013, Ballen had to take a boat piloted by the Corp. to reach a site, Minchin said. Ballen measured the diameter and height of each tree and marked the trees with aluminum tags for future study.

“It was huge – a real lot of field work,” Minchin said. “They had to do it under really difficult conditions. Some of these sites were hard to get to. They couldn’t get to them because they were flooded. Some of these sites were underwater and they couldn’t get to them.”

Ballen’s research revealed mixed results. She found that the restoration was overall successful; but learned that Pecan trees had the highest mortality rate and needed to be replanted.

“She found the restorations are only partially successful,” Minchin said. “Some aspects of it appear to be on track. Other ones are not. Several of planted species of trees are actually growing. They are growing at a rate that means that they will attain the size of true forest trees. But the number of trees has declined. The mortality – the survival has not been really good. The ones that did survive are growing okay.”

The results of Ballen’s study showed that more trees must be planted along the flood plain in order to sustain steady growth. The number of trees per area has also declined.

Meanwhile while teaching and gardening at Umpqua, Ballen is taking courses to complete her Master Gardener certification. Ballen said she hopes to expand the Learning Garden and create more gardens within the Douglas County (Ore.) area.

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