Meet The Person Behind Our Trees: Felicity Purzycki

At Williams, trees surround us. They contribute to our school’s outdoorsy personality, and they’re appreciated through a myriad of ways: hammocking, taking photos, or socializing. While you might not think much about the assortment of trees you pass as you walk around campus, they come from deliberate planning and maintenance processes. 

Picture of Felicity Purzycki, Landscape Ecology Coordinator
Felicity Purzycki, Landscape Ecology Coordinator

Meet Felicity Purzycki, the college’s Landscape Ecology Coordinator and a member of the Grounds Department. Purzycki works with the Zilkha Center and the Planning Design and Construction (PD&C) Department to manage the college’s landscape through a ecological sustainability lens. This includes overseeing what kinds of plants are used on campus while considering their impacts on surrounding people and animals. Within the Grounds Department, she hosts committee meetings with students and faculty to gain feedback and communicate out her work. 

During the design phase of construction projects, Purzycki provides insight on tree preservation and species selection according to the project’s needs and the larger campus aesthetic. Purzycki advocates for conserving trees during construction projects on campus, relying in part on sustainability goals framed by the Williams Strategic Plan and Williams Landscape Study

One project that Purzycki worked on was the development of TreeKeeper, a campus tree inventory of all trees on campus classified by species and location. A yearlong project, the inventory began after a presentation she gave to Facilities Operations and PD&C on the importance of tree preservation in construction projects. Today, it is used in discussions and campus initiatives concerning tree plantings and conservation, construction projects, and is even used for student research projects.

Bright orange trees and green pines stand in front of Chapin columns while students study on the lawn
PC Williams College Instagram

 “It is an important tool used on campus in the planning process for creating a climate-adaptive campus with a resilient community forest,” Purzycki said in an email.

TreeKeeper is not only helpful for mapping out trees on campus, but also for visualizing what parts of campus certain trees thrive in. Selecting a plant depends on its living conditions and its compatibility with the college’s landscape conditions. This information can then be used when deciding where and what tree to plant.

“Species selection can be a complex process that requires a lot of interdisciplinary collaboration and is not the work of [a] single person,” she added. “There are the technical aspects of plant selections that must be considered including soil types, soil pH, water and light requirements. Every site is different and there are micro-climates that exist due to wind, proximate to structures, or nonporous and reflective surfaces. We also have to consider the mature size of the plant, root space, and access to maintenance, and if winter applications of sidewalk salt would be a factor. That is just an overview to show the amount of consideration that needs to be factored into species selection.” 

 Purzycki (right) pruning trees in front of the ‘66 Environmental Center
Purzycki (right) pruning trees in front of the ‘66 Environmental Center

Purzycki also considers the role of a plant in its surrounding environment. “Plants, both woody (think trees and shrubs) and perennial plants, grasses, and ground-covers, can provide ecological benefits such as supporting butterflies, moths, and other insects through their life-cycle stages, birds, small and large mammals. In addition to environmental benefits of carbon sequestration, they can help with diverting rainwater from storm-water drains, removing harmful particulates from the air, and other human health and social benefits. All while being aesthetically pleasing,” she said.

Picture of pathway and buildings surrounded by the lush green of early summer
PC Williams College Instagram

In her three years here, Purzycki states that the college has made positive changes towards a sustainable campus through the collaboration among different departments. She hopes that the Grounds Department will grow in size, especially due to the campus’s large footprint and its needs during the growing season.

For those interested in getting involved in this kind of work, there are opportunities available for students interested in tree preservation on campus. The Seed Library Committee will host a Bioblitz during Earth Week, where students can document species on campus through the i-Naturalist app. The Seed Library is also looking for seasonal volunteers for sorting and documenting seeds.

The Tree Advisory Committee, which recently formed in the fall, is looking for volunteers to help out with planning the college’s first annual Arbor Day Celebration. Folks interested in volunteering can reach out to Purzycki directly. There are also student-run organizations that directly work with the campus’s greenery, such as the Williams Beekeepers Club, Williams Birding Club, and Williams Sustainable Growers

“I have worked at Williams for three years and in my short time here I have seen a lot of change and positive momentum on campus with intra-departmental collaboration and teams working together to achieve sustainability goals and just creating a healthier and inviting campus,” she said. “I think there is still a lot of work to be done, but I am proud to be part of the progress that has been made on campus.” 

Olivia Jo, Sustainability Communications Intern at the Zilkha Center