The Garden Club of America is touting its friendship with a College of the Atlantic botany professor who has provided learning opportunities for COA students in Maine and beyond.

Since 2008, Professor in Botany Dr. Nishanta Rajakaruna ’94 has been adviser to 11 student winners of Garden Club of America scholarships, who have used the money to conduct research in field botany, medicinal botany, summer environmental studies and horticulture.

“My students have won about $25,000 worth of research funding from the GCA over the years,” Dr. Rajakaruna said. “Without GCA support, we wouldn’t be able to do the kind of field research we do. GCA is one of our biggest supporters and I appreciate them acknowledging our efforts to provide undergraduates with graduate-level research experiences.”

For example, Paul Excoffier ’14, currently completing senior project research on vernal pools in Acadia National Park under Rajakaruna’s supervision, was recently funded by the Garden Club of America’s Joan K. Hunt and Rachel M. Hunt Summer Scholarship in Field Botany.

“The GCA Scholarship Committee has a real friend in ‘Nishi’,” writes Marion DeGroff, vice chairman for field botany for the 18,000-member club. “I have enjoyed visiting him and working with him when his students have won (scholarships). He keeps in touch with these scholars and shares his news of them with GCA Headquarters.”

A native of Sri Lanka, Dr. Rajakaruna graduated from COA in 1994 and returned as a faculty member in 2004 after receiving his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia and pursuing postdoctoral research at Stanford University. His research is primarily on plant communities surviving on extreme substrates such as serpentine soils and a number of his GCA scholars have authored peer-reviewed publications on these topics.

Dr. Rajakaruna is currently lecturing in Russia and has recently received an honorary appointment as an Extraordinary Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the North-West University, South Africa.