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Helping the Next Generation Succeed at ASHS

Warm weather, beautiful summer blooms, and a vibrant student presence were the backdrop for this year’s American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida from July 31-August 4th, which was attended by nearly 1100 people. AFE was proud to support ASHS’s efforts to engage young professionals by sponsoring the Education and Career Day, the Undergraduate Poster Competition, and the Floriculture Professional Interest Group’s Oral Presentation Competition for Graduate students. AFE’s Research Coordinator Laura Barth attended to present the AFE-sponsored awards and connect with AFE Young Professionals Council (YPC) members and scholarship winners who were in attendance. Events like ASHS are crucial in the development of budding researchers, growers, educators, and leaders, and AFE is dedicated to fostering each step of their journey.

Education and Career Day: Innovation in Horticulture

The Education and Career Day: Innovation in Horticulture was a resounding success with over 180 people attending. Thirty university and industry representatives set up tables and talked to students and early career professionals about job opportunities and career options. USDA representatives, University of Florida Extension, and industry members spoke about the realities of applying for jobs and working in these sectors. A professional recruiter was among the speakers and also assisted in resume reviews. Two of AFE’s YPC members, Leynar Leyton and Forrest Brown, represented AFE at this event and engaged in conversations about how AFE supports the industry and shared opportunities to become involved with AFE. Opportunities shared included AFE’s internship programs, the AFE Career Center, research funding opportunities, and the YPC. The YPC provides students and young professionals in academia and industry opportunities to network with peers and industry leaders from all floriculture segments. Membership is free, and you can learn more and join here.

 “It was great to represent AFE during the Career Fair at the ASHS annual meeting in Orlando, FL. It was nice to talk with the people that stopped by to say hi, and see the impact of AFE. I hope more students get involved after talking with us at the career fair and take advantage of all the resources available to them – specially the AFE career center, scholarships, and the Young Professional Council. Thanks to AFE for the opportunity to represent them at ASHS this year!” stated Leynar Leyton, YPC Member and Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Georgia.

Undergraduate Poster Competition

This year, an unprecedented 40 undergraduates showcased their research in the Undergraduate Poster Competition, a testament to the engagement and enthusiasm among the student community. Typically, only the first-place winner receives a cash prize and the second and third-place winners receive honorable mentions, but this year, because of AFE support, ASHS was able to award cash prizes to all of the winners.

ASHS’s Negar Mahdavian told us, “Your financial support this year made a big difference in the way we were able to support these students who work so hard. What was best, however, was when the third-place winner came by so that we could airdrop the photo to her so that she could show her professor that she had won. We told her that we would be in touch to get her address to send her a check. She looked shocked. Speechless! She truly had no idea. It might be only $100, but to her, it was the most amazing experience. Thank you for making it happen!”

Graduate Floriculture Oral Presentation Competition

The ASHS Floriculture Professional Interest Group held an oral presentation competition for graduate students, with AFE sponsoring cash awards and certificates for the three highest-scoring presentations. This competition featured scholarly research that revealed not just academic rigor but also innovative thinking and a passion for the floriculture industry. Students presented their results on relevant topics ranging from substrates to nutrition to sustainability, and they were judged on the quality of the written abstract, the creativity of the research project, the quality of the presentation (both the visual presentation and the delivery), and the importance of the research to the floriculture industry. It was an impressive turnout and the judges, who represented a variety of sectors in the industry, had their work cut out for them. Jack Bobo from NC State, who is an AFE YPC member and Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholarship recipient, took home the top prize.

“It was such an honor to be selected as a winner this year. Thank you so much for allowing us graduate students to present the work that drives us!” stated Bobo.

In addition to sponsoring these important industry events, AFE also provided a travel grant through Gus Poesch Research Fund for The Ohio State University to graduate student, Evili Martins. She had the opportunity to network, connect, and learn. Her full experience is shared with us through this post-event report.

“The conference gave me the opportunity to make contacts, clarify doubts, and get updated on horticulture development around the US. I am sure that some of these insights will be helpful in my professional career. I am grateful for being awarded the travel grant and for the opportunity I had as a student to attend the conference. I am sure I will look forward to being present in the next years, hopefully as an industry professional,” reflected Martins.

The ASHS Annual Conference underscored the importance of nurturing and recognizing emerging talent in floriculture. AFE knows that financial constraints can burden many students, so in addition to supporting events like research competitions and professional development sessions, and travel grants, we also offer over 30 different scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students, which are only possible because of contributions from industry donors and organizations. Together, we can ensure that our students and young professionals, as well as the industry itself, continue to bloom.

For those of you inspired by the future of floriculture, consider  supporting the American Floral Endowment with a tax-deductible donation.