EKU Student Assists NASA, Combines Love for Nature with Idealism

Nan Campbell photo

Nan Campbell could never have imagined a few years ago that she would spend a summer tending the Smithsonian gardens and become a beekeeper even before she turned 21.

Neither could she have predicted that she would wind up at Eastern Kentucky University, from which her father and two siblings graduated. Not that they would dissuade her, but she wanted to forge her own path.

But, like the plants she tended in D.C. and the bees that wing from petal to petal, her confidence has blossomed and her dreams taken flight. Thanks in part to several faculty mentors, the diminutive dynamo is learning to combine her abiding love for nature and ecology with a deep-rooted idealism to change national food policies and gardening practices.

Fresh off the prestigious internship in the nation’s capital, the junior horticulture major from Elizabethtown, daughter of Charles Campbell and Susan Campbell, is also EKU’s unofficial student beekeeper. As such, she is playing an important role in the University’s initiative to promote beekeeping as a means to reclaim surface mine sites while also contributing data to a NASA project dealing with the relationship between flowering plants, bees and global warming.

In addition, Campbell will help lead an awareness program this year about bees and beekeeping with the ultimate goal of making EKU “one of the nation’s most pollinator-friendly campuses.”

That means countless talks to on- and off-campus groups, once a dreaded chore but now a joy.

“I was terrified of public speaking,” Campbell acknowledged, “but last year I did a lot of presentations and now I’m pretty much over it.”

Credit that, in part, to her participation in EKU’s Honors Program, nationally renowned for the number of students participating in state, regional and national conferences. Campbell has made several presentations about beekeeping and bees’ critical role in ecology, not only at Honors events but around the region.

“I’m more confident in what I want to do. If you really want to do something, the opportunities tend to present themselves.”

Many of those opportunities have sprung from close relationships with several EKU faculty members.

“I never thought I could go a public university where I would know my professors so well,” the 2008 Central Hardin High School graduate said, “but I found it was incredibly easy … and they were extremely willing to help me in whatever I was interested in.

“You can find ways to do whatever you want to do, no matter where you are,” she added. “I have no regrets about Eastern. I love it here.”

And faculty love her.

“Nan approaches things on her own,” said Dr. Tammy Horn, apiculturist with the Eastern Kentucky Environmental Research Institute at EKU and a nationally known expert on beekeeping. “Her independence and individual initiative are refreshing.”

Beginning this year, Horn and Campbell will tend to beehives at a new outdoor classroom at the southern edge of campus. That’s in addition to older hives at several surface mine reclamation sites in southeastern Kentucky that comprise Coal Country Beeworks.

The data Campbell is collecting for NASA is a small part of a large nationwide project.

“NASA is concerned that global warming might be upsetting the symbiotic balance between bees and flowering plants,” Horn explained. “Their way to check this is to weigh hives on large farm scales. A hive will gain or lose weight depending on what’s blooming around it.”

Aiding that effort is equipment donated to EKU by graduate Willena Supplee, daughter of the late Bill Eaton, former state apiarist.

“After he passed away, she kept his equipment,” Horn said. “She saw a story on our beekeeping initiative and decided she would donate the equipment to us specifically for teaching purposes. The equipment is already being put to good use.”

Just as that link has proven helpful, Campbell’s horticulture background is invaluable to Eastern’s beekeeping program.

“She has a wealth of experience and analytical skills,” Horn noted. “Nan’s experiences with both commercial greenhouses and sustainable gardening communities mean that she is capable of approaching education from a non-linear and creative perspective.”

This past summer, with the assistance and support of Dr. Cheryl Friend in EKU's Department of Agriculture, Campbell worked with the Victory and Heirloom specialty gardens at the National Museum of American History, Behring Center, which features the largest turf and tree area of all the Smithsonian gardens on the National Mall. She assisted horticulturists with maintaining the gardens and grounds and researching appropriate plantings for the specialty gardens, often answering questions from the public about this variety or that.

“Nan’s passion for her work is matched only by her eloquence when she talks about it,” raved Dr. Linda Frost, director of EKU’s Honors Program. Now Campbell wants to “reclaim the gardening knowledge of an older generation and teach it back to the younger one who is losing that connection and relationship to their land.”

You might call Campbell an old soul with youthful energy. Or, as Frost put it, “a deeply intelligent and wholly thoughtful woman who cares greatly about this place (and) has a vision rare among people significantly older and supposedly wiser than she.”

Appropriately, Campbell serves as the Honors Program community service coordinator and as vice president of the Honors Student Advisory Council, in addition to secretary duties in the Horticulture Club. A 4.0 student, she is also a member of Delta Tau Alpha honors society.

Combine her intellect, passion, vision for service, work ethic, leadership skills and eloquence and you have someone who “is destined for an unusual future, one full of promise and hope and terribly hard work and certainly frustration,” Frost said. “But she is bound to do great, great things in her life. I have absolutely no doubt of this because she’s already doing them.”

Published on September 21, 2010