Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers – and staff members, too.
Meet Katie Dunker
Katie Dunker is the CSU Extension Statewide Coordinator for the Colorado Master Gardener Program. (Photo provided by K. Dunker)
Katie Dunker will always remember the day she became the Colorado Master Gardener Statewide Coordinator. That’s because it happened on April Fool’s Day.
She stepped into the statewide role after serving as CSU Extension’s Master Gardener coordinator in Douglas County. Katie, 37, is an alum of CSU where she received her graduate degree and met her husband Eric. Her undergraduate degree is from Oregon State University.
With experience in higher education administration and a background in public health, she hit the ground running in her new position. “A lot of my job is connecting the dots between the counties and the state,” she said.
She spends her days juggling tasks such as helping a new Master Gardener coordinator get settled in, updating Master Gardeners on the Emerald Ash Borer’s movements, coordinating continuing education programs using Zoom software, updating the statewide website and promoting the CMG program at every opportunity.
In this Q&A, Katie shares advice for apprentices, her biggest gardening fail and what she hopes for Colorado Master Gardeners in the future:
What do you enjoy most about your job?
“I really love my job and feel honored to serve programs across the state. The best part is learning about the awesome work that’s going on in counties and sharing those with a statewide audience.
One of the most exciting programs is in Garfield County where the local CSU Extension agent, Abi Saeed, received a grant to do a summer gardening series at a local apartment complex. Instead of having people come to the program, she brought the bilingual program to a diverse, multigenerational group of 300 participants on Friday nights. The coolest thing is they took a nonfunctioning swimming pool and turned it into a community garden that became the centerpiece for the apartment complex.”
What’s your philosophy or approach to your work?
“I keep in mind that relationships are key. I remember one of my professors at Oregon State saying, relationships are people who care, talking about things that matter.”
What advice would you give to an apprentice Master Gardener?
“Apprentices are drinking by a fire hose. There’s a lot of information to take in that first year so I’d say ‘jump in with both feet’. You don’t have to be an expert if you understand the process for using horticulture to empower people and connect them to good information.”
What’s the biggest gardening fail you’ve had?
“When we lived in Highlands Ranch and had a newly landscaped house, I was just starting to get into gardening. I had come from Oregon, so I planted hydrangeas in the flower box in front of the house. I’d trim them way back every winter and then mulch them. They had great foliage, but they never bloomed. I’d have done it differently had I known what I know now. I still don’t know what color those flowers were.”
Where do you get your energy?
“I’m really an internally motivated and driven person. I’m motivated by making sure to move CSU Extension to be more accessible, the Master Gardener program specifically. I want us to be more nimble, more progressive and to get our name out there more. It makes me sad when people haven’t heard about Master Gardeners – we’ve been around 40 years! We don’t want to be a best kept secret.”
What’s your favorite way to have fun?
“I love being outside and I love being with my kids and family, so anytime I can combine those two is the best, like skiing or hiking. We have two elementary-age boys and a one-year-old girl.”
How do your kids like to spend time with you?
“Playing the card game Skip-Bo; going to the neighborhood ice cream shop, and watching football on TV.”
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
“An early bird for sure. I love to get up between 5:00 and 6:00 to see the sunrise. I love the quiet mornings while the kids are asleep, have a cup of coffee and maybe wander around in the garden.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Whether it’s work life or personal life, whatever you’re going through it’s just a season – good or bad.”
What do you envision for Colorado Master Gardeners in the future?
“I would love to see the Colorado Master Gardener program as a really fun group, willing to put ourselves out there for diverse community groups, from nursing homes to office buildings, and partnering with different organizations so we’re more in the fabric of a community rather than just a resource for a community. When I picture Colorado Master Gardeners as a person, I see a gritty gardener who loves people and plants.”
By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005