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A Look at the Next Generation of Floricultural Scientists, Educators, and Leaders

A Look at the Next Generation of Floricultural Scientists, Educators, and Leaders

We are so pleased to announce this year’s Paul Ecke, Jr. and Altman Family Scholars! Congratulations to these incredible young professionals!

These six individuals have a plethora of accomplishments in the industry and have their sights set on even further growth. AFE strives to uplift young professionals and support them as they pursue futures in our industry.  Our Paul Ecke, Jr. and Altman Family scholarships specifically help fund the education of full-time graduate students pursuing a career in horticulture or floriculture – the next generation of floricultural scientists, educators, and leaders. These scholars represent the best of the best in their fields and we are happy to highlight each of their unique experiences, passions, and accomplishments that led them to where they are today.

About the Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholarship 

The Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholar awards $5,000 a year for two years ($10,000 total) to a dedicated MS/Ph.D. student attending a U.S. land-grant university. The scholarship is in honor of the late Paul Ecke, Jr., who contributed vital knowledge to the industry through innovative research and education programs. The recipient is recognized as a passionate graduate student dedicated to research and education in the floriculture and horticulture industry. For more information about this scholarship, click here.

Jack Bobo – North Carolina State University

Jack started his college education at Texas A&M with his sights set on veterinarian school – until he took his first horticulture class to satisfy a general science credit. After that class, everything changed. It was here where Jack says the beginning of his career really began. He went on to receive his Bachelor’s degree in Horticulture Science at Texas A&M before moving onto the University of Georgia, where he completed his Master’s degree in the same field.

Flash forward to today, Jack is a Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University, conducting substrate research with Dr. Brian Jackson in his Horticultural Laboratory. 

“If I may be so bold to say, I truly believe that at the cornerstone of plant flourishing lies horticultural substrates,” Jack said. “We deal in the optimization of plant material by the manipulation of that which it is grown in. In just the first six months with my lab, I have witnessed how flowers grown on the same bench in a greenhouse with optimal conditions can and will look completely different in health, coloring, and overall size due to alterations in growing media.”

In the near future, Jack is excited to attend a number of industry events and continue expanding his network. He recently joined AFE’s Young Professionals Council (YPC) and is looking forward to attending more upcoming YPC events.  “No matter where my career takes me, I hope that my knowledge within the horticultural sector and my passion for people can be implemented in concert to progress this great industry that has swept me into its tides.”

“Receiving this scholarship is a complete honor – I hope that this scholarship will help me make more connections in the industry and open doors for me that might have previously been unavailable to me,” he said. “I am completely excited, honored, and feel very privileged to be a Paul Ecke Scholar.” 

About the Altman Family Scholarship

Created in 2015 by Ken and Deena Altman, the Altman Family Scholarship seeks to support improvement in horticulture education and research by investing in outstanding, young industry professionals. The Altmans believe in the power of giving back and do so through the reach of this scholarship and Altman Plants programs that offer growing expertise to the industry. This scholarship provides an annual scholarship ($5,000) to promising and dedicated graduate students pursuing a career in horticulture. For more information, click here.

Isabella Borrero – University of New Hampshire

Isabella’s love for floriculture started at a young age, spending her summers in her grandfather’s garden.

“The garden was this central hub for our family, and parts of it showed up in all aspects of our lives,” Isabella explained. “Our celebrations would  be held there – everything from birthdays, anniversaries, even my college graduation party. The fruits would be in our birthday cakes, the vegetables in family dinners, and the flowers would be gifts.”

Isabella found her niche after taking a plant pathology course as an elective in her first year at Ohio State University. Her professor, Dr. Thomas Mitchell, recalls her sitting in the front row and being incredibly engaged with the course material from the beginning – eventually, Isabella realized this was what she wanted to pursue for her career. She went on to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Plant Pathology and now is in the Agricultural Sciences Master’s progam at the University of New Hampshire. 

Isabella’s research is looking into how the addition of wood-fiber ammendments to substrates causes both physical and chemical changes to create a disease-suppressive environment for floricultural species. The goal of the project is twofold: first, to characterize wood fiber substrates’ ability to suppress Pythium root rot in floricultural species. Secondly, it aims to increase the scientific communities understanding of the role the microbiome plays in the disease-suppressive nature of wood-fiber based substates. 

Isabella says that this award will help her in her future career goals tremendously. She aspires to one day work in a research-conducting botanical garden or greenhouse, and would love the chance to conduct research overseas someday. 

“The value of experiencing different cultures and ideas from people around the world to me, is priceless,” she said. “I believe that a wide range of experiences in different plant-pathogens systems around the world is needed for me to obtain the level of literacy I aspire to in the field of plant pathology, and that research is trending more and more towards international collaboration.”

Josselyn Calidonio – Clemson University

Josselyn grew up in Ayutica, Santa Ana, a small community in El Salvador where agriculture is the main economic activity. Her father is a farmer, which helped to forge her love for agriculture and plants from a young age. 

Her first academic experience in the industry started at EARTH University in Costa Rica, studying Agricultural Sciences “It was at EARTH, where my wonderful journey began, and where I discovered and confirmed that flowers were and are what I love and what I want to continue working with and exploring,” She said.

From there, Josselyn began to gain hands-on experience in the industry, completing a year-long internship at Metrolina Greenhouses as an Assistant Grower and a 9-month job position at Costa Farms in the Dominican Republic as a Junior Grower. 

All of Josselyn’s experiences ultimately led her to Clemson University, where she is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Plant and Environmental Sciences. She works under Dr. Jim Faust, researching new alternatives for Botrytis management in floriculture crops. Josselyn has been involved with AFE throughout her research project, sharing her work in our quarterly Thrips and Botrytis Newsletter.

Josselyn’s dream is to continue in the floriculture industry, applying her knowledge and bringing revolutionary ideas, and through research, help solve industry problems.

“Words can’t express how grateful I am to the flower industry and how much it has made me grow personally and professionally,” she said. “My goal is to be a role model and example of resilience for other people who want to continue this path. I would like them to see that no matter where you are from, your socioeconomic status, or your gender, you can accomplish your dreams.”

Henry Gonzalez – Michigan State University

“If I were to describe my life thus far, I would consider it to be centered around a constant desire for personal growth and professional development.”

Henry is a first-generation student from Nahuizalco, El Salvador. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Environment and Development from Zamorano University in Honduras before moving to the US to pursue a Master’s Degree in Mechanized System Management with Water Planning and Management Specialization at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. Last Fall, Henry was admitted to the Horticulture Ph.D. program at Michigan State University.  Henry is also a recently-joined member of our YPC.

His research focuses on the development of low-cost technologies for pollution control and prevention, specifically for agricultural wastewater treatment. He is working on two projects, one focusing on the use of engineered substrates to improve nutrient and water retention in containerized nursery production, and the second focusing on the use of woodchip bioreactors for the remediation of agrochemicals from irrigation return flow in nursery and greenhouse operations.

In the short-term, Henry wants to provide guidance to local growers about water conservation practices and share solutions to nutrient management issues. In the long-term, Henry wants to be a Professor who can contribute to the agricultural and water science research in the US and Central America through collaboration with other professionals. 

“With the valuable advising/mentoring I am receiving from my graduate committee, I believe this award will help me build a sturdy foundation for my career, expand my leadership skills, and stand out in academic excellence,” Henry said. ”I am confident I am already paving the way for other children from my family and community to access high-quality education and have the courage to take on the world.”

Savannah Mead – West Virginia University

“I think my favorite thing about being in this field is how passionate everyone is about their research, myself included. It’s an industry of love and no one ever stops questioning or wanting to know and learn more, and I am no exception.”

Savannah attended West Virginia University for her bachelor’s Degree in Horticulture, where she also minored in Cello Performance. Now, she is finishing up the first year of her Master’s in Horticulture at West Virginia University. 

Savannah has her mind set on ensuring a bright and strong future of the floriculture industry – her focus particularly is in sustainable floriculture, researching how to reduce the environmental impact of floriculture production. Her research looks into how AMD-coated sand as a media amendment influences plant growth, health, and flowering of petunias and chrysanthemums both in a production environment and in a post-production or “homeowner-emulated” environment.

In the future, she hopes to find a research position at a lab that works with floricuture crops, whether annual or perennial, and will continue exploring and contributing to improving floriculture sustainability. She is considering pursuing her Ph.D. as well so that she can continue to research and teach students about floriculture, it’s importance, it’s multifaceted intrigue, and share her love for it. 

“This award allows me to experience milestones in research that I never have before,” Savannah said. “I could not be more grateful to AFE for seeing the potential in me and awarding the Altman Family scholarship to me so I can truly enrich my graduate research experience.”

Patrick Veazie – North Carolina State University

Patrick’s inspiration and motivation for working in the floral industry lies in always finding new ways to help growers and new ways to continue advancing the industry. 

“The floriculture industry is always changing, which can often lead to growers experiencing new problems and a need for new resources for growers,” Patrick said. “Helping develop these resources and solve these problems has driven me to write extension articles and conduct research to share with growers.”

Patrick received his Bachelor’s in Horticulture at North Carolina State University and is now pursuing his Master’s in Floriculture Production, conducting research under Dr. Brian Whipker. Patrick is also a member of our Young Professional Council, participating in meet-ups at industry events and attending webinars.  

Patrick’s current research focuses on finding new, environmentally-friendly alternative aggregates to be utilized in potted substrates for floriculture production. Specifically, he is examining different biochar aggregate sizes as well as different biochar incorporation rates to determine what is optimal for greenhouse production.

“My research will directly impact growers in the floriculture industry by helping growers find suitable alternative aggregates to perlite as well as determining cost-effective alternatives that will produce similar, if not higher-yielding plants, compared to current commercially available substrates,” Patrick said. 

Patrick plans to continue his studies by pursuing a Ph.D in Florculture and/or Greenhouse Production, and then either enter academia or the horticulture industry to continue conducting research to solve problems in the industry and provide solutions to growers. 

“This award from AFE will allow me to travel to more growers and attend multiple meetings to continue to learn about floriculture research and the current problems that growers are facing,” Patrick said. “Using this award, I plan to expand my extension efforts to focus on more crops by visiting new growers.”

To learn more about our Paul Ecke, Jr. and Altman Family Scholarships and to apply, click here. Applications are due by February 1st each year!