University of North Carolina- Asheville
What is your research about and what is the impact? How does it relate to the horticulture industry, what is the goal?
My research is focused on tissue culture, a method used to produce many identical copies of plants that are disease free for horticultural purposes. I will focus on optimizing this technique for woody ornamentals crucial to the flower industry in Wisconsin. Forsythia is a common midwestern flower shrub that is known for its bright yellow blooms; thus, it’s a great candidate to conduct this research on. We, as a lab, look forward to adding to the current knowledge base and applying our findings to other ongoing cold hardiness studies of woody perennials in Wisconsin.
What was the path you took to work in plant sciences? And then what advice would you give to your younger self to get into the field/career you are in today?
My journey in the plant sciences has taken me all around the United States. I grew up hiking in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and I was consistently fascinated by the ferns, oaks, and moss lining the streams. My love of the outdoors drew me to attend college at UNC-Asheville where I studied environmental science with a focus on plant ecology. During my time there, I completed an undergraduate fellowship focused on optimizing crop yield through varying soil amendments. Post-graduation, I stayed in Asheville and worked as a research technician concentrating on ecological restoration and tissue culture in the mountainous region of western North Carolina. I subsequently moved out to California where I initially worked for the United States Forest Service with a focus on forestry restoration in the Sequoia National Forest. After working a season in the forest, I moved north to Fresno, CA where I took a position in the USDA Agricultural Research Service as the primary assistant to Dr. Craig Ledbetter, with my research centered on his tree fruit and vine breeding program.
At the ARS, I gained experience in a multitude of capacities due in large part to the mentorship of Research Geneticist Dr. Craig Ledbetter and Agronomist Dr. Steven Lee. This includes in-ovulo embryo culture of Vitis for grape breeding, clonal propagation, and field phenotyping. Additionally, I gained skills in Prunus and Vitis seed handling, micropopagation, as well as inoculation and screening for a variety of pathological diseases. Further, I mastered laboratory phenotyping of almond kernel traits, peach-almond populations as well as fruit quality analysis of grapes, apricots and peaches. While I greatly enjoyed my time at the ARS, I knew that I wanted to further expand my knowledge of horticulture and the plant science. To this end, after five years of living in Fresno I decided to compete for a MS in Horticulture at UW-Madison.
I have always viewed the attitude that I take into my outdoor adventures as an extension of the attitude that I apply to my career. From jumping into waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest, to exploring the canyons of Death Valley, to climbing Mount Whitney, the curiosity and fearlessness that drove my adventures has allowed me to succeed in my career. I would tell my younger self to never doubt my abilities and to embrace these attributes which make me unique. Additionally, I would tell myself that building connections with mentors is just as important as individual curiosity. The scientist that I am today has been molded by the undergraduate advisors, botanical garden experts, foresters, plant breeders, and plant pathologists that I worked for in my path to Madison. Now, I look forward to taking the next step of that journey and learning from all the experts in the Plant Resilience Lab.
If you went to the past, what would your younger self say they wanted to be when they grew up? What between then and now inspired the change in careers?
After reading Desert Solitaire and Big Sur as a teenager, I was determined to move west and research the natural environment in isolation. I was able to live out this dream working for the US Forest Service and living in a remote ranger cabin in the Eastern Sierras, and it was wonderful! I am a firm believer, though, that the study of the environment must be paired with the effective communication of this research to the general public. To this end, I ultimately decided I wanted to be involved in an active research lab and collaborate with others, much like I am doing now in the Plant Resilience Lab here at UW-Madison. To me, I do not view it as a change in careers, but rather a natural progression focused on positively impacting scientific literacy.