March 14, 2023

Building on the success of the mapping of trees on Shawnee State University’s campus in 2019, Class of 2021 graduates Brianna Combs and Emily Dean worked with university professors Dr. Erik Larson and Dr. Logan Minter during their senior year to complete a GPS tagging of the trees and greenery in Greenlawn Cemetery located in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Emily Dean and Brianna Combs
Shawnee State University Class of 2021 graduates Emily Dean (left) and Brianna Combs (right) completed GPS tagging of Greenlawn Cemetery at the beginning of their senior year.

“We started by doing a walk-through of the cemetery and doing a health assessment of each tree and shrub we found,” said Combs, who with Dean spent most weekends of their senior fall semester cataloging the cemetery. “We would record what type of tree it was and record if it had any damages that were visible.”

Greenlawn Cemetery dates back to 1829, and is one of the largest publicly-accessible greenspaces within the City of Portsmouth. Hosting several national record-holding trees within the 40-acre space, Combs and Dean recorded over 550 trees and shrubbery. With 75 different species found within its grounds, the students completed an assessment and tagged each piece of greenery they found.

“These records are not only for the public to view, but the goal was to be able to give this map to the maintenance people in the cemetery to use,” said Dean. “When they start to plant new trees, they can see if those types of trees do well in that environment or if it needs special care compared to others in the same spot.”

Both Biology graduates with Botany minors, this hands-on project while enrolled at SSU gave Combs and Dean real experience to lend to their future careers.

students tagging tree
Emily Dean (left) and Brianna Combs (right) documented over 550 trees and shrubbery within Greenlawn Cemetery in Portsmouth, Ohio.

“I had never been involved in a project like this around here,” said Combs. “It really opened up some new opportunities in this area, including events outside of the cemetery. We volunteered at the annual Arbor Day celebration and handed out tree saplings that the horticulture students had grown.”

The project gave an opportunity for both students to connect with members of the Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery, the foundation working to restore and preserve the history of the cemetery.

“It was a nice project to be a part of because we get to meet all these people who have started the process of preserving the area,” said Dean. “They were part of organizations that helped to fund our project and supported our work.”

The Greenlawn Tree project was funded in large part through a grant from the Scioto Foundation, providing the resources to purchase GPS equipment to use throughout the cemetery. The SSU Department of Natural Sciences, Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery, and Portsmouth Shade Tree Commission also contributed to the project.

The mapping of Greenlawn Cemetery completed by Combs and Dean can be found online at

This feature was originally released in the Shawnee Magazine 2022 issue. To view the full magazine online, visit