A Path to Success – Emma Lookabaugh Shares the Impact of AFE

Behind the work that the Endowment undertakes to provide for the floral industry are the moving stories of our impact. Back in 2014, a promising NC State graduate student and ornamental enthusiast was awarded the prestigious Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship through AFE – her name was Emma Lookabaugh.

Emma credited this award and the Endowment with aiding her career advancement and helping to fund her education. With these pressures alleviated, she found more time to focus on her research and take on new opportunities.

Now a Technical Service Representative of Turf & Ornamentals for the Southeast United States for BASF, Emma’s dedication to the industry, investment in her education, and successes are a testament to the impact of AFE’s scholarship programs.

They say, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” By that logic, it seems that Emma Lookabaugh has never had to “work” – with her undying passion for floriculture and ornamental plant pathology. She is fortunate to be doing exactly what she loves and serving our industry.

Emma received her undergraduate degree in Plant Biology & Biological Sciences as well as her Master’s and Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from NC State University.

During her time there, she excelled in her academics. Not only was Emma Valedictorian of her undergraduate class, but she graduated with summa cum laude honors. She was well deserving of many awards, including the Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship, and took on numerous leadership positions and industry opportunities. When asked what kept her motivated, she said, “putting in the work is a lot easier when you love what you do. I’ve always been fairly ambitious, but the end goal was always to find something that I truly enjoyed.”

Often the floral industry bores passionate members, but it’s evident Emma is especially zealous about flowers. When she thinks of plants and how they piqued her interest, she attributes it to memories. With a father in the military, Emma lived in various places in her youth. This travel exposed her to “deep-rooted, rich, cultural history” in unique locations like England and Hawaii. No matter where she went, “plants were always in the background of everything I did,” she noted.

So, Emma took that interest to her education pursuing plants into her career. Through some chance endeavors, Emma found her love for plant pathology.

After starting as a dishwasher for the Plant Diseases and Insect Clinic, Emma took on an assistantship for the director at the PDIC and became the first graduate student researcher funded through this clinic. “The rest was history,” so she said, as this opportunity and the Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship led to “pretty much everything else.”

Emma cites the scholarship alleviating financial stress during this time, allowing her to focus on her graduate research and bridging the gap between floriculture research and disease management strategy. “I was immensely grateful for the stability the scholarship provided,” she said.

Not only that, but Emma notes, “the Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship definitely helped advance my career in the floriculture industry because it opened the door to meeting new people and introduced me to different aspects of the industry – those connections are how I ended up in my current position.”

Emma now works for BASF stewarding plant protectant products with a love for ornamentals and that industry connection. “We coordinate research testing with university cooperators and private consultants to expand our efficacy and plant safety data and use this information to develop recommendations to address the needs of our customers while providing sustainable solutions.”

Though she doesn’t miss having to put on a Tyvek suit and spray insecticides in a greenhouse, Emma still loves to be around plants. She says her position allows her to visit growers often and walk greenhouses; she’s heavily involved in the industry she loves.

Ultimately, Emma hopes she can use her knowledge and position in the floriculture industry to be a trusted source of information. She wants to serve the role of providing rotations and more complete, sustainable solutions to incorporate into management programs.

When asked about what she sees for the industry’s future, Emma emphasized the importance of AFE’s support and the critical industry resources we continue to provide. “With regards to plant pathology, there has been a major shift at universities. They are losing ornamental plant pathologists to retirements and lack of funding, and once those positions are gone, they are not being replaced. From providing scholarship and internship opportunities to funding industry-specific research and educational grants — The American Floral Endowment plays a critical role in the continued success and longevity of these programs,” said Emma. “I support AFE because your organization is committed to advancing the next generation of professionals in the floriculture industry.”

Stories like Emma’s show how essential the support of the Endowment is to the ever-evolving floral industry. Helping to advance industry members like her to the next stages of their education/careers in the field and drive lasting success remains a key component of AFE’s mission.

Emma, thank you for your devotion to our industry and involvement with the Endowment. We wish you continued success!

Click here for more information on AFE programs and scholarships like the Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship.

Vital industry resources like these are made possible through the contributions of our generous supporters. Consider making a tax-deductible donation for our 60th Anniversary year and help us continue to provide a stronger, more sustainable future for floral.

By Shanley King, AFE’s Communications Coordinator