Friday, May 24, 1996

Natural amphitheater is part of an outreach program to regain
funding cut from the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden.By
Jennifer Louie

Daily Bruin Contributor

While most students sit in stuffy, noisy classrooms, the
atmosphere is tranquil only yards away.

Surrounded by shady, towering trees and foliage, a group of
students attends class at "the nest," a new addition to the Mildred
E. Mathias Botanical Garden.

The $15,000 facility is a small amphitheater personally designed
and built by the garden’s staff and volunteers — cut into the
hillside and "protected" by foliage.

Biology professor and director of the garden Arthur Gibson said
he named the arena "the nest" not only to coincide with the
addition’s natural theme, but to provide students who visit it with
an appropriate analogy. The arena, which seats about 40 adults, was
built to serve non-profit and educational purposes for anything
compatible with its natural setting, including literary or arts
functions, Gibson said.

Many students from his class Biology 80 said they enjoyed having
their lab in the garden because it provided a kind of hands-on
training and more comfortable surroundings than their usual
classroom.

"It helps me understand and better appreciate what I’m learning
because I can see it," said Amierh Ghorob, a second-year biology
student.

Though many students agreed that the nest is appropriate for
learning, they said the facility’s natural, serene environment made
it difficult to pay attention to the professor.

"It’s so comfortable. I only see butterflies and not cars. I’m
too relaxed to pay attention," said Che Hutson, a second-year plant
biology student. Hutson added that if he regularly had class in the
nest, he would better focus his attention on his professor.

But other visitors said the nest’s unique setting made it easier
to concentrate because it was visually stimulating.

"It’s easy to get distracted (in the nest) but it’s also easy to
get distracted in a classroom. The difference is, nobody will fall
asleep outside! There are no fluorescent lights giving you a
headache and no clocks ticking away to disrupt you," explained
Stephen Gomez, a fifth-year molecular cell and developmental
biology student and teacher’s assistant for the biology class.

Regardless of the students’ individual perceptions of the
setting as a learning environment, Gomez said the class’ large
turnout reflects the students’ greater enthusiasm for coming to
class in the garden.

To enhance the facility’s natural setting, the staff had wood
­ California incense cedar ­ lumbered from Northern
California and boulders shipped from Duarte, Calif.

Many staff members said they are proud of their accomplishment.
But, after about 25 hours of helping to construct the addition,
Gibson explained, "I better be satisfied with it because I’m too
tired to change it!"

In order to maintain its natural atmosphere, located in the
quietest section of the garden, the facility forbids food and
beverages as well as functions involving amplified sound. Use of
the "nest" requires a reservation but is free to the public.

But like other UCLA-funded projects in recent years, the
garden’s budget has been continually reduced and now stands at a
whittled-down $150,000, Gibson estimated. Since then, "(The
faculty) has forever been looking for money resources and is
currently trying to raise an endowment of $3 million," Gibson
said.

The garden has had to lay off two part-time employees and has
now resorted to volunteer programs for maintainance help, explained
Randolph Plewak, the garden manager.

Plewak said he is concerned about the university’s regard for
the future of the garden.

"I get nervous when I see and hear that Capital Programs’ plans
encroach the garden. They don’t respect the boundaries of the
garden," Plewak expressed.

But Gibson, who was on the sub-committee that oversaw Capital
Programs’ plans for the campus, said he has not seen any such plans
and does not foresee losing the garden.

However, Gibson expressed that he does share some of Plewak’s
concern that, eventually, they may not have enough money to run the
garden in a respectable way.

To prevent this possible tragedy, Plewak and Gibson agreed that
they must rouse more public support , thereby increasing the
garden’s financial resources.

The first major step in its promotional outreach effort began on
April 1, when it accepted reservations for the nest. Since then,
the garden has received a positive response from the university and
the community, and has booked several reservations.

Use of the ‘nest’ requires a reservation but is free to the
public.