The Champions of Nature

man and woman holding a plant and insect

Providing beauty and education to K-State students and visitors.

For many Manhattan-area residents and visitors to Kansas State University, the Insect Zoo and The Gardens at K-State are two of their favorite places to visit. Scott McElwain, director of The Gardens at K-State and Kiffnie Holt, coordinator of the Insect Zoo, tirelessly lead these popular, community-engaged programs with limited resources.

 The Insect Zoo, located in the old dairy barn of the gardens, is home to an observation beehive and a variety of insects, arachnids and scorpions. It’s a popular place for school-age kids to see in person what they’ve learned at school.

“With budgetary restrictions, there is no way I could expose my students to all that they learn at the insect zoo,” said Christina Stroud, fourth-grade teacher at Enterprise Elementary in Enterprise, Kansas. “Each year I make an effort to take my students to the K-State Insect Zoo. My students not only learn valuable information, but also how important insects are to our ecosystem and to not be afraid of them. The hands-on interaction is invaluable.”

Area resident and K-State alumnus Nick Gieber believes The Gardens at K-State are a little piece of heaven in Manhattan.

“One thing that struck me is on one side of the garden wall, its hustle and bustle. Kids are walking, cars are going — it’s a hurry-up world,” he said. “On the other side of the wall, you walk into the garden and there is a calmness, a peacefulness that’s there. It changes your whole perspective.”

Both The Gardens and the Insect Zoo receive just a fraction of their budget from the university and rely on the community and private gifts to keep their programs running. Both directors have plans to expand their spaces and to offer more programming to campus and the community, but to do so, they need more philanthropic investment.

“In order to grow The Gardens and the Insect Zoo, we need to increase the endowments with larger gifts so we can increase our staff and expand our infrastructure,” McElwain said. “Having folks in the community supporting your project and helping it move forward is very rewarding. I feel like we’re creating resources on campus that will not only benefit students today, but benefit future students.” 

To support the Gardens at K-State or the K-State Insect Zoo online or contact Casey Droddy at 785-775-2042 or

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