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Staff Snapshot: Janine Almanzor, phytophile and runner

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A trained scientist and lifelong fan of learning and plants, Janine has turned her passion into a full-time career at UC. As the curator and education coordinator at the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens, she uses her experience-based knowledge and specialty skills to beautify the Gardens and inspire its many visitors.

A lifelong appreciation for learning about the natural world

Janine vividly remembers when her interest in plants began: It was in second grade when she and her classmates planted bean seeds in Styrofoam cups and left them in the sun to take root. “My seat was right by the window so I would watch them all day and see them growing,” she recalls. She spent her childhood playing outdoors with her twin sister. Sometimes they spent the whole weekend doing yard work, even pushing the family lawnmower together.

Janine attended college at UC Irvine and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. After graduation, she worked five years as a research associate in the medical school’s Dermatology Department. When she decided to start a family, she chose to leave the workforce to focus on her children. But in her spare time, she continued to use her research skills to learn more about gardening and botany in the Inland Empire.

In 2008, she began volunteering at the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens near her home. She and the curator clicked right away. “I loved working with him and learning from his wealth of knowledge,” she says. When Janine learned about the UC Master Gardener Program — a volunteer-managed program that provides research-based knowledge on gardening, sustainable landscaping and pest-control to the general public — she decided to pursue a certification.

A few years later, Janine realized that the Rose Gardens would benefit from devoted attention. She decided to pursue a second designation as a Consulting Rosarian. Similar to the knowledge- and service-focus of Master Gardeners, this prestigious certification by the American Rose Society recognizes volunteers who have developed expertise around rose cultivation and culture, and who are committed to sharing it with others. Janine soon began renovating the Rose Garden and writing informative articles for volunteers and the public. She filmed an instructional video on rose pruning and began leading the Gardens’ popular annual rose-pruning event.

Transforming passion into a career

Janine began volunteering at the Botanic Gardens in 2008; four years later, when she was ready to re-enter the workforce, the first place she looked for jobs was UC Riverside. Though there were no open roles at the Botanic Gardens, she found a position within the Entomology Department. She was able to make an immediate contribution there, drawing upon her biology and Master Gardener skills to co-author meaningful research around invasive insects.

During this time, Janine continued to volunteer at the Gardens. In 2015, when the curator retired, many people encouraged her to apply for his role. “I was shocked when I got the job, but my years of dedicated volunteering and being a Master Gardener and Consulting Rosarian paid off,” Janine says.

Janine has found that serving as curator has been an ideal fit for her many areas of interest. She uses her research background to record data, problem-solve and get the Garden’s 59+ years of plant records into better shape. Her natural ability to connect with others around gardening inspires colleagues and volunteers — “It’s great to be around fellow gardeners who are down-to-earth (pun intended),” she says. And, one of her first major undertakings as curator was completing the renovation of the three Rose Gardens, which she began as a volunteer. Today, the Rose Gardens feature more than 300 old and new varietals, including heritage varieties, miniatures, floribundas, climbers, grandifloras and hybrid teas.

“It’s hard to pick one thing I enjoy most about my role because there are so many rewarding aspects,” Janine says. “Getting this job after taking so many years off to be with my kids has been amazing. It’s my dream job, and the best job in the world. I don’t plan on going anywhere else!”

Meet Janine

Name: Janine Almanzor

Title: Curator/Education Coordinator

Department/Unit: Botanic Gardens

Location: UC Riverside

When did you start working for UC? 1988

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? I curate the Botanic Gardens.

Why do you love working for UC? I love the community environment and how well we are supported. It’s all I’ve known because I’ve been so happy with UC.

What’s something people don’t know about you? I love to run. I ran cross-country and track for UC Irvine when I was a student there in the 80s. I’ve run several marathons. I continue to run, but I’m a lot slower these days.

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? I don’t idolize famous people and would be uncomfortable with someone I didn’t know, so I would say Jachin, my good friends’ nine-year-old son. Jachin was adopted from India when he was three and warmed up to me right away — we are “kindred spirits.” He visits often to help me with gardening, refilling the bird feeders and other things around the house. We read books together, write stories, play games and draw. He’s very inquisitive, fun and creative, and he keeps me youthful.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? My current boss, Dr. Jodie Holt, always encourages me to balance work and family. If you work too much, you can get burned out and it takes a toll on your attitude and family. Since the Botanic Gardens has always been understaffed, it’s easy to do too much — my predecessor worked 60-80 hours every week for over 30 years. I know I can’t do that, so I’ve learned to streamline processes, delegate responsibilities and track my hours. I also remind myself to enjoy my work — it’s so important to be happy since we devote so much time to our careers.

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