Alumna Erin Aguiar’s Internship Blossoms Into Successful Career

Alumna Erin Aguiar (Environmental Horticultural Science, ’09), the newly appointed horticulture director at Sherman Library and Gardens in southern California, is living proof that internships and hard work can reap amazing results.

Aguiar, whose maiden name was McCoy as an undergraduate, has spent nearly her entire career working at the Corona del Mar property, where she had completed two stints as an intern as part of the Arnold D. Haskell Scholarship she was awarded twice. 

The scholarship, established by chairman of M.H. Sherman Co. Donald Haskell, supports environmental horticultural science majors by funding $20,000 for tuition and living expenses and includes a summer internship at the gardens.  Aguiar’s scholarships were the result of good grades and staying involved in the Crop Science and Horticulture Department as president of the Horticulture Club, a member of Pi Alpha Xi, working as a teacher’s aid and at the Leaning Pine Arboretum. 

She also recalls the many opportunities Cal Poly afforded her. “I was able to meet experts, ask questions, and have hands-on experiences,” she said. “Learn by Doing gave me confidence to ask a lot of questions, try it, and learn from mistakes. I try to keep that mentality when approaching something new.” 

Aguiar also used her time off in the summers to experience unique career-building opportunities. “I was part of the first Cal Poly study abroad program in Peru,” she said. “The next summer, I worked as an intern for a large commercial landscape company. I had my internship at Sherman Library and Gardens the summer before and the summer after graduation.

“I had never considered a career at a botanic garden before those internships at Sherman Library and Gardens,” she continued. “I found a valuable new perspective of horticulture that was really intriguing. The opportunity provided many unique experiences where community art and science intersect.

After an extended internship at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii, Aguiar began her career at Sherman Library and Gardens, where she has served in several different capacities.

“My path to this point has been a combination of things,” she explained. “Our organization has grown immensely over the last decade in regard to botanic collections, creativity in garden design and special events, and community engagement. I had the opportunity to experiment with the gardens and guide our horticulturists into an ever-strengthening team.”  

She admits that in addition to hard work, it takes dedication and passion to succeed. 

“We are a smaller organization, and over the years I have worn many hats. I’ve been involved in horticulture, education, docent training, facilities management, pest control, and event planning. I’ve been fully involved and took every opportunity.” She enjoys her job because she says every day brings something different.

“We are a botanic garden, but we are also a very special space,” Aguiar said. “There are so many opportunities to create. I help guide our horticulturists as we design the ever-changing garden from season to season. I can turn a crazy idea into something real with the help of our talented team and eager volunteers.”

As a public garden, Sherman Library and Gardens serves many people, and Aguiar is challenged to maintain the history and tradition of the facility while offering something completely new each season.

“The garden grows our living collections, but it is also a place for classes, private events, fine dining, guided tours, visitors, community meetings and volunteer functions,” she said. “With so many moving parts, the layers of logistics can be complicated.” 

But the challenges don’t diminish what she calls “an exciting time for Sherman Library and Gardens.

“Our vision is to inspire ecological horticulture and the enrichment of people’s lives through educational and artistic experiences” Aguiar said. “I aspire to share these beautiful, interesting, special experiences in gardens with a more diverse community.  

“People and plants are connected in so many ways, from recreation and materials, to food, natural beauty and medicine. The possibilities are endless, and I look forward to finding creative ways to find inspiration in the natural world.” 

For more information on Sherman Library and Gardens, go to

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