AFE 2019 Altman Family Scholars

AFE’s 2019 Altman Family Scholars: 
Paul Cockson, Yiyun Lin, and David Tork

The Altman Family Scholarship was created in 2015 by Ken and Deena Altman—owners of Altman Plants—as one of the numerous efforts supported by the couple to improve education and research for the industry. The scholarship provides $5,000 to assist in funding the education of full-time graduate students (MS or Ph.D.) who will become leading floricultural scientists and educators. Ken Altman has been actively involved in AFE’s Education and Scholarship Committees and has served on the AFE Board for more than a decade, currently in an Emeritus status.

This year, the Altman Fund is supporting three graduate students currently enrolled in masters programs at leading institutions. All three not only are already engaged in meaningful research but demonstrate qualities of leadership and commitment to the industry, along with excellent communication skills.

Paul Cockson, North Carolina State University
Paul became interested in plant science well before he was an undergraduate at North Carolina State University, where he is currently enrolled in the Masters of Horticulture Science program. A summer internship, working on a project relating to tobacco-plant nutrient disorders, turned into two years of undergraduate work. The project ultimately resulted in five articles in peer-reviewed journals, two awards for Paul’s work at national and international conferences, four popular press magazine articles, and over twenty extension publications—an astonishing output of productivity.

One of Paul’s current research projects is aimed at one of the floral industry’s trendiest and most in-demand products: succulents. With the use of plant growth regulators, he hopes to enhance the production of new shoots in different species, reducing the time it takes for a pot to fill out. Later in the year, he and an undergraduate mentee will grow poinsettia cultivars sent by different companies and will ask members of the public to rate them, gathering useful market data.

Yiyun Lin, Ohio State University 
What could be more important to the floral industry than research on flower longevity? At Ohio State University, Yiyun Lin’s graduate research is focused on unlocking the key to what causes petals to wilt and die, in terms of physiology and genetics.

She has also been active in efforts to reach out to young people who might have an interest in horticulture careers. Yiyun has been an activity group leader for a science education event aimed at middle schoolers, introducing them to greenhouse crop production, and a team leader for another event designed to help high school students identify future careers. Yiyun is also a member of AFE’s Young Professionals Council.

Yiyun’s goals are high: she aims at nothing less than becoming a pioneer in biotechnology research as it applies to floriculture crops. “What helps me the most,” she affirms, “is being surrounded by really awesome, passionate people who are trying to make an impact in the world.”

David Tork, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities 
David is working with two cultivars: one with long, unbranched flowering stems, another with short, highly branched stems and dense foliage. “By quantifying the vase life potential, and by identifying ideal cut flower plant habit,” he writes in his scholarship application, “we will be able to select and breed lines which are ideal candidates for the cut-flower industry.”
This July, David will be presenting the results of his study at the 2019 Annual Conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science. Earlier this year he participated in the National Floriculture Forum, a meeting supported by the American Floral Endowment that brings together academics, government scientists, and industry leaders.

“My advisor always joked with me when I started, ‘You’ll know when you’re plugged into this and you can’t turn it off, because you start having dreams about it.’ That does start to happen after a while.”

Those are good dreams to have—dreams that will soon turn into realities to benefit all of us who have a professional passion for flowers and plants.

Click here to read the full profiles on each of our scholarship recipients.