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The Latest Dirt - Dec 2022

Program Coordinator Dawn Kooyumjian Welcomes Class of 2023

by David George


I was honored with the opportunity to interview Dawn Kooyumjian, the Coordinator of both the Alameda and Contra Costa County’s UC Master Gardener programs for this special Class of 2023 issue. Dawn shared her warm welcome to our new trainees, her fascinating background, and her vision and program goals for the next several years.

“First of all, I’d like to welcome our new Class of 2023! But congratulations are a bit premature (she laughs). The reading, homework, labs, and final presentations are meant to be both educational and challenging. We will celebrate in March. But I have seen that this class brings fantastic experience and potential to our program, and I can’t wait to see all of you certify. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed the training so far as much as we’ve enjoyed delivering it. You’ve been provided just a taste of the wonderful opportunities to come.”

Dawn, can you share a bit of your background with our trainees?

Dawn Kooyumjian working at UC Berkeley’s Blake Garden.
Dawn Kooyumjian working at UC Berkeley’s Blake Garden.

“Prior to being hired by the UC Cooperative Extension to coordinate the county programs, I held two positions at UC Berkeley. The first, which I loved, was as one of the horticulturists at UCB’s Blake Garden in Kensington. The second, which I also loved, was teaching the course “Plant Identification and Use” to both undergraduates and grad students for the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. My early training had nothing to do with biology and instead was in piano accompaniment and harpsichord. While I don't have a degree in botany or horticulture, I have learned by doing as well as having taken classes over the years. The two UC roles provided me with hands-on experience with horticulture, working with students and volunteers, teaching, and the opportunity to interact with the public.

Wow, that must have been a real experience. And it resulted in a book?

“Yes. I edited a book that my Landscape Architecture students developed, titled Gardens for San Lorenzo. It was published in 2015 at the height of our last serious drought and had great advice for homeowners interested in lawn replacement. It’s still available today.”

What are your goals for the Contra Costa program for the next three to five years?

Dawn Kooyumjian teaches about weeds and invasive species at the Albany Bulb.
Dawn Kooyumjian teaches about weeds and invasive species at the Albany Bulb.

“Our overall program continues to evolve. We need more UC Master Gardener outreach in east and west county communities. We have a good start with the Rivertown Demonstration Garden in Antioch, and with the Richmond Dry Garden and (new) Water Conservation Garden -- but there’s room to grow. I would also like to see us continue to build the School and Community Gardens programs. While we have expanded our outreach to our Spanish speaking communities through programming such as Jardineros en el Huerto, I’d like to see more. I’m happy to say that our Contra Costa goals are in remarkable alignment with the UC Master Gardener Program Statewide Office’s current strategic vision. We need to listen and respond to the communities we serve in order to remain relevant.”

What is your advice, Dawn for our “Newbies” to make the most impact in their first year?

“First of all, get involved with more projects than you think you might be interested in. You may be surprised about how much you like a new project or what you’ll find. Have fun and explore. You’ll also find out that you know more than you think you do. Have the confidence to try something new because we have experienced UC Master Gardener volunteers who will support and mentor you along the way. You can rely upon them while you become more involved and confident.”

That’s great advice. Do you have any final words for our new trainees?

“Yes. Over time, you’ll realize that our overall program is dynamic and able to adapt as we move forward. Why is this? Because of our great UC Master Gardener volunteers of course! Our volunteers bring fresh perspectives to new opportunities, and energy to accomplish our goals. You’ll all be in a position to make a difference in our communities very soon.

Thanks, Dawn for your super perspectives and tips for our new trainees, and your guidance on how they can make the most of our UC Master Gardener programs!