Behind the Scenery

June 1, 2020

Caroline Lonneman, Eco Rep

Caitlin Griffith, Sustainability Coordinator

The McDermott Mall.

Figure 1: The McDermott Mall.

Anyone who has spent time at The University of Texas at Dallas’s campus will be familiar with the Margaret McDermott Mall. This beautiful area on campus is lined with magnolia trees and leads to the Plinth, wisteria grows into a canopy overhead. It is a center of campus—and an incredibly green one for a technology-centered school such as UT Dallas.

“ Concrete canyon”, before renovation.

Figure 2: “ Concrete canyon”, before renovation.

View Full-Size Photo

However, this was not always the case—in fact; the addition of such greenery is recent in UT Dallas’s history. Years ago, what is now the Margaret McDermott Mall was referred to as the “Concrete Canyon”. In 2000, Margaret McDermott, already a generous donor to the university, contributed to UT Dallas to share her love of trees. With it, the University was able to renovate the Canyon, adding the well-known reflection pools, magnolias, and trellises. Once complete, the Margaret McDermott Mall became a hub for campus, with people gathering to sit under the shade of the trees.

Since then, UT Dallas has continued Margaret McDermott’s legacy. Campus now consists of over 7,000 trees, with staff and students working tirelessly to grow the forest on campus.

The Team

Frank Rodriguez, campus arborist, repelling a tree.

Figure 3: Frank Rodriguez, campus arborist, repelling a tree.

Facilities Management plays a vital role in planning, building, and maintaining our beautiful, growing campus. The Landscaping & Grounds Department, led by Associate Director Sam Eicke and Landscape Superintendent Dale Bufkin, is responsible for keeping the beds, trees, wildflower plantings, and green spaces healthy and growing. One member of their team has been especially instrumental in developing UT Dallas’s forest into the beautiful canopy it is today.

Frank Rodriguez has been UT Dallas’s arborist since 2012. Frank recently led the Landscaping & Grounds team in one of their more ambitious projects—the implementation of a system called ArborPro. One might notice a small silver tag on each tree on campus. Frank and his crew place each tag individually. Each tag displays a unique ID for each tree, and information for each tagged tree is kept in the ArborPro database. Staff can reference information like location, botanical name, common name, trunk diameter, tree height and recent pruning dates and other upkeep data. This system is what allows the Landscape & Grounds team to respond efficiently to any issues on campus.

With over 7,000 trees of over 65 species, UT Dallas has its own urban forest that helps regulate heat and add biodiversity—but this is quite a few trees to manage without something like ArborPro. If you are curious about a tree on campus, you can access the database online. The addition of ArborPro helped make UT Dallas eligible for Tree Campus Higher Education — a program in which UT Dallas has been a part of since 2016.

Tree Campus Higher Education

Watch 2019 Viva Volunteers celebrate Texas Arbor Day by planting red oaks at the VCB [Visitor Center and University Bookstore]  entrance!

Can’t play the video? Download it in MPEG-4 (MP4 [Moving Picture Experts Group MPEG-4 Video] ), Ogg Theora (OGV [Ogg Theora Video] ), or WebM (WEBM [WebM Video] ) format.

UT Dallas has acquired Tree Campus Higher Education certification for its fourth year. Tree Campus Higher Education, formerly known as Tree Campus USA, is a prestigious recognition given to campuses that meet a standard of care for its trees. Institutions must have a tree advisory committee, a consistent and actionable tree care program, an annual service project to engage students, and of course, observe Arbor Day.

As UT Dallas continues to develop campus, many dedicated staff, like the Landscape & Grounds team, are devoted to keeping a healthy, beautiful environment. Tree Campus Higher Education helps provide UT Dallas with a network of resources and information with other universities that have similar goals, along with encouraging events and volunteerism. For example, UT Dallas was represented at the Tree Campus Higher Education Field Day in Chicago in March, where college and university professionals met to discuss challenges and solutions to tree planting, maintenance, engagement, and safety. Rodriguez, Bufkin, and Sustainability Coordinator Caitlin Griffith worked with professionals across the country to share ideas and stories about campus projects.


Volunteerism exhibited by UT Dallas students and staff contributes a large part to improvement on campus. The Office of Student Volunteerism organizes many of these events, where students of any skill or interest can sign up. Many events focus around campus improvement, namely Viva Volunteer, which doubles as our Texas Arbor Day celebration.

Viva Volunteer is an annual service event that occurs in late October. Hundreds of students, staff, and community partners work together on a variety of projects, aimed at helping the local community and campus. The 2019 event alone supplied 150 trees to Plano residents, packed over 30,000 meals, picked up 30 bags of trash, and much more. Additional statistics information can be found on the Viva Volunteer webpage.

National Arbor Day is observed on the last Friday of April, but because of the late spring heat, Texas celebrates it each year on the first Friday of November. The cold weather helps trees get established before the hot summer. Each year at Viva Volunteer, the Office of Sustainability and Facilities Management hold a planting event to contribute to UT Dallas’s young forest. In 2019, six red oaks were planted by the Visitor Center and Bookstore entrance. Volunteers also received training from Texas A&M Forest Service Regional Urban Forester, Mike Sills. Volunteers helped place trees, backfill holes, and measure DBH and height. Finally, volunteers aided in tagging trees and logging them in ArborPro. Watch a video on the event on our website!

Next time you are on campus, take a moment to appreciate all that campus landscape has to offer, and the dedication that UT Dallas staff and students have towards growing our campus canopy. Without people pitching in, UT Dallas would not be the beautiful campus it is today.

If you are interested in providing service to beautify campus or in another capacity, please contact the Office of Student Volunteerism and/or the Office of Sustainability!

A group of students and staff with shovels pose in front of one of the trees that were planted as part of Viva Volunteer 2019.

View Full-Size Photo


< More News