Spotlight Bekkah Berryhill

Q&A with Bekkah Berryhill, Kent State University Care of Grounds Manager and Kent State alumnus

Office of Sustainability Newsletter April 2021

Bekkah Berryhill, Kent State University Care of Grounds Manager and Kent State alumnus

What sparked your interest in maintaining and enhancing natural areas? 
My love of natural areas stemmed from my childhood camping trips and visits to our US National parks.  I remember trying to wrap my head around the geyser systems at Yellowstone, the eruption of Old Faithful scaring me with her power.  I was drawn to cool, clear mountain streams and collecting wildflowers from each of the parks that we visited and pressing them in a travel journal.  Those trips we took allowed me to see how fortunate we are to exist alongside such majesty.
What is your favorite part of your position?
I absolutely love learning, my position of Grounds Manager has provided me daily opportunities to learn something new or at the very least, a new way of approaching an old view.
What are your favorite accomplishments or projects you have worked on so far? 
I continue to love planting trees on campus.  Twice a year we are given the opportunity to make a huge difference to the future of this campus.  Multiple studies show the beneficial relationship between a healthy tree canopy and healthy minds and bodies.  Trees provide so much more than a shady place to read a book, although they are excellent for that as well.  Healthy soils, healthy waters and healthy air are all results of a healthy tree canopy. 
Where is one of your favorite spots to visit on campus? And what makes it your favorite?  
I love the European Beech tree at the Williamson House, it takes so much restraint to not want to climb it. I enjoy the cleanly edged and striped turfgrass and pops of color provided by our staff, but I think I love the true “University” feel of front campus and its tree lined walks. 
How does sustainability manifest itself in what you do at Kent State University? 
Our department plays a critical role in Kent State University being a good environmental steward.  Even the most simple daily task such as picking up litter can have a drastic effect on stormwater quality.  Every tiny piece of plastic that we miss goes directly into the Cuyahoga River and then into Lake Erie.  We are blessed to live amongst the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater system in the world.  How we manage our snow operations, lawn treatments,  leaf collection and control erosion also impacts the water quality of this region.  I feel as if we owe our future generations the opportunity to enjoy clean water and clean air. 
What do you want people to know about University Facilities Management Grounds? 
I would love people to know that we work hard at trying to strike a balance between the natural world and being able to live safely in that world.  Trees are incredibly beautiful but can also be incredibly dangerous if not maintained in an urban environment.  We ask these trees (and other types of plants) to thrive in environments that would not necessarily be their first choice.  They have to deal with sidewalks and buildings cutting into their root systems, we often times have to clean up their fallen leaves which if left on the ground can add to soil structure and feed the microbes in the soil, we run equipment over the soil which compacts it and makes it difficult to exchange both gases and water—we ask a lot out of these plants!  So, we invest in taking steps to ease some of the burden on the plants by mulching up leaves for a good portion of the fall.  We set out tree protection zones during construction, and we prune not just for aesthetics but for good structure and long life.  We also try to walk the balance with wildlife on campus.  The birds, insect and mammals had populations on the campus far longer than we have.  We try to co-exist as much as possible, if chemicals are needed in order to maintain some portion of our landscape-we go out of our way to apply the chemicals at the recommended dosages during a time when sensitive organisms would be disrupted the least.  Creating a diverse, healthy ecosystem is our best defense in having to turn to chemical means.
How long have you been at Kent State and what were your roles? 
I began my undergrad degree at KSU in 1991, I worked as a student in the Grounds department for 3 years.  I then took a fulltime position in the Grounds department as a groundskeeper, then moved up to Equipment Operator I, Equipment Operator II, Supervisor, then to my current role as Grounds Manager about 18 months ago.
What is the Planting Partnership? 
The Planting Partnership is a program designed to allow folks to donate a tree in honor of or in memory of a loved one.  The donation can be given by a single donor or by a group or department.  The donor does not have to work at the University.  The program has been in existence far preceding my tenure.

What is your favorite tree and/or plant? And why? (If you had to pick just one or two!)
I love a Nyssa sylvatica (Black gum) in the fall, you can’t beat the color! White Oak species are not only huge and gorgeous, but I just learned that they also provide resources for one of the largest grouping of diverse organisms in North America. I also love the color of callicarpa (Beautyberry) and the scent of Agastache foeniculum (Anise hyssop) is delicious to me.  I couldn’t pick just one or two --

Thank you Bekkah!

UFM Grounds