Paul Ecke, Jr. & Altman Family Scholarship Recipients

Paul Ecke, Jr. & Altman Family Scholarship Recipients

Flourishing Industry Prodigies

Meet the future of the floral industry; this year’s Paul Ecke, Jr. and Altman Family Scholarship Recipients. 

These recipients started out like many of us — unassuming, young, soon-to-be plant people searching for a purposeful path in life.

Somewhere along the way, each sprouted a love for the world of flowers and plants. And now, they’re trenching a better future for all of us through their impressive experience in new research projects, academia, and spreading plant knowledge. 

Albeit young, their resumes are packed with experience in the field. These flower fanatics aren’t shy about their love for immersing themselves in industry issues and searching for real, practical solutions. 

With technology, sustainability, and possibilities on the brain, all three students are aiming high for the floral future with hopes to give back to the industry through their career endeavors. They cite Altman & Ecke Scholarships affording them the time and funds to pursue precise projects, ease the financial burden of their education, and expand their work. 

With unwavering dedication, these scholars have big plans for their studies and research.

2021 Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholar – Caleb Spall

In honor of the late Paul Ecke, Jr., the Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholarship awards $5,000 a year for two years ($10,000 total) to a dedicated MS/PhD student attending a US land-grant university. Paul Ecke, Jr. was a highly respected, long-time member of the industry who contributed vital knowledge through innovative research and education programs. This scholarship is awarded to passionate graduate students interested in contributing to the industry in a like spirit through research and education. For more information, click here

At the “intersection of industry, science, and art,” you can find Michigan State graduate student, Caleb Spall. 

This Ann Arbor native sprouted a love for floriculture and horticulture through a middle school science project. However, it wasn’t until his sophomore year as an undergraduate at MSU that the interest shifted into a career goal during a course on greenhouse structures and management with his advisor, Dr. Roberto Lopez.  

“It was amazing –I was fascinated by the combination of automation, technology, plants, and art. It inspired me to specialize in floriculture.” 

This course laid the foundation which inspired Caleb’s first internship. Caleb interned at Green Circle Growers in Oberlin, OH, where he was first exposed to commercial greenhouse operations and sparked interest in growing practices, industry problems, and alternative solutions. 

“I learned that it was an exciting time to be entering the industry. While the industry is already so advanced, there is a lot that can be improved on and I was excited about that prospect. That’s what drove me to pursue graduate school – to provide information to growers about new sustainable techniques.”

Since then, Caleb has been pursuing his MS in Horticulture at MSU with many notable grants, awards, and leadership titles under his belt. His focus lies in lighting practices, and since August 2020, he’s been involved in a collaborative project with industry entities like Bloom Studios, Fluence, and Sakata Ornamentals, producing meaningful results in cut flower research. Like a true Ecke Scholar, he’s set out to pass on the industry knowledge he’s gained by stepping into additional positions like MSU Student Horticulture Association mentor.

Caleb’s favorite thing about being in the industry? The unifying enthusiasm for growth that he observes from industry members, companies, and organizations.

Caleb noted, “It’s a really unique industry – in my experience with research and interning, it seems like lots of people know each other and want to collaborate on work. We can all learn from one another, cross-pollinate ideas, and help each other out. That’s really something special to me.”

He hopes that this collaboration continues to be a common theme of the industry in the pursuit of more sustainable techniques in lighting systems, biological control, and reducing chemical reliance. 

As Caleb continues his education, his plans for the Ecke funds include both sharing research and learning more about these concepts through conferences on domestic and international levels. He believes these common themes transcend the industry worldwide and wants to bring creative and novel techniques to the American industry.  

“You can learn and apply so much to your current growing operation by observing and collaborating with others. I’d love to use these funds in part for eventual travel, and to learn about floriculture on an international scale.” 

Beyond that, Caleb hopes to land a domestic job in floriculture research and development to help improve the sustainability and productivity of our industry. He cites AFE as a big motivator and tremendous support in his education, professional development, and study of ornamental floriculture and horticulture.

“AFE supports every aspect of the industry. It’s encouraging to have an organization that has your back – helping students, young professionals, and businesses alike.” 

2021 Altman Family Scholars – Mason Marshall and Mary Lewis

Passionate industry advocacy is a staple for the Altman Family Scholarship. Created in 2015 by Ken and Deena Altman, this Scholarship seeks to support improvement in horticulture education and research by investing in outstanding, young industry professionals. 

The Altman’s 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 (this year $5,400) to promising and dedicated graduate students pursuing a career in horticulture. For more information, click here.

Mason Marshall, Texas A&M University

Before his world grew in green, Mason Marshall intended to pursue a medical career. However, the seed of horticulture was planted by a summer job he got at a local business in Odessa, TX called Yard Dog Garden Center. 

Mason notes, “It opened my eyes to the world of horticulture. I really owe a lot to owners Randy and Lynn Correa. They put me on the path that I’m on today. Working in the nursery, seeing all the new genetics, petunias, and all the new things on the market got me interested in horticulture and that’s really when I fell in love with it.”

Two years into this job, Mason transferred to Texas A&M where he later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and minors in entomology and plant breeding. Today, he’s pursuing his master’s at Texas A&M in Horticulture Science. Through graduate school, he branched into floriculture through research in the efficacy of plant growth regulators on potted plant sunflowers and potted plant production in a greenhouse. These projects have allowed Marshall to help introduce new hybrid sunflowers to the market with unique branching habits and continuous flowering capabilities.

In addition to his research and slew of departmental scholarships, Mason has taken on four semesters as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Having come from a family of educators, teaching is in his blood. 

“I’ve taught over 100 students now and that’s what I feel most proud of. I want to pass on my knowledge through extension, academia, or teaching. I’m very proud of being able to serve others in the industry.”

Mason’s favorite things about his involvement in the industry are passing his knowledge on and being surrounded by plants. Sharing that connection and new information with industry members contributes to industry growth, which he notes as very promising. 

The advancements in plant genetics he witnesses and contributes to help motivate his plans for the future. Mason hopes to enter the private sector, academic extension, or even continue his work with sunflowers. “I’ve been doing sunflower research for three years. I’ve really grown fond and passionate about sunflowers.” So much so, that he’s even considered starting his own farm. 

Mason believes the possibilities are endless for those who enter the floriculture and horticulture industry, as they are for him. Moving forward, he’d love to finally share the research he’s been working on and showcase a bit of what the scholarship funds have gone towards to give back to the industry. 

“I’m excited to be able to share my results — not only to give updates on my research to AFE to show them what these funds have contributed to but to share my results with the industry.”

As an Altman scholar, Mason is also a big AFE advocate. Having been involved with AFE since attending a Board meeting and research presentation at Texas A&M in 2019, Mason has since received an additional scholarship from AFE and advocates for their importance within the industry. He knows and appreciates the opportunities the organization offers, from scholarships, internships, and grants, to research and career development. He continuously encourages his students to apply for the sake of the industry’s future and his student’s success.

“Especially after being a recipient, I want others to have the opportunities that I have been given. I found access to amazing scholarships, internships, and grants through AFE – I want others to know what’s out there.”

Mary Lewis, University of Georgia

Meet Mary Lewis, or as some may know her, Mary Snowberry. This young, enthusiastic, self-proclaimed plant lady has been surrounded by family members in the earth science field her entire life. It was only a matter of time until Mary found a niche of her own.

During a family hiking trip in the white mountains of New Hampshire when she was 11, Mary and her family were listening to a naturalist give a talk on local unique plant species, one of which was the snowberry. The snowberry is a rare, small plant with an edible, white berry that tastes like a tic-tac. On this trip, Mary was the snowberry spot-woman. “That became the moment in time for me where I told myself I love plants. I thought, ‘this is a very unique thing that I want to be a part of’ because I really enjoyed the whole process.”

As Mary puts it, she went down the plant rabbit hole. She later got her bachelor’s degree in horticulture at the University of Georgia. She credits the late Dr. Paul Thomas and other dedicated, caring professors for providing the knowledge and push she and others needed to pursue opportunities within the field like research, scholarships, and internships. Since then, she has not only been pursuing her PhD in ornamental plant breeding but has been awarded AFE scholarships on multiple occasions, accumulated recognition in numerous research competitions, and even interned at Disney. 

While inspired by her experience, she’s also very encouraged by the industry’s ability to respond to change based on consumer preference. “I love that the industry is not growing the same varieties in the same way for years on end. I love how the methodology will change and even the different types of plants you grow will change.” The same goes for breeding. Speaking as a member of the floral community she continues, “We take what we hear based on what consumers like, want, or see, and we get to bring in plants that they would have never heard of or seen of. We adapt them and we change them so that they’re more beneficial not only to the consumer and their yard, but for the bees, caterpillars, or anything that might come into contact with the plant.” AFE-funded research enhances best practices, plant breeding processes, and flower quality like Mary mentions above. The industry is constantly evolving and AFE research promotes the latest advances and changes.

Despite what can be an unpredictable part of the floriculture and horticulture industry, the daunting possibilities of breeding are what she describes as a good problem to have. Wanting to learn and do as much as possible, Mary says that the Altman Scholarship has alleviated financial stress from her education allowing her to whole-heartedly pursue her most inspired plant endeavors.

Fascinated by breeding, Mary’s research focuses specifically on the interspecific hybridization of asclepias. In the future, she hopes to enter the field of ornamental plant breeding and be a sort of liaison for growers, informing them on how to be successful in growing the plants she creates. Through possibly joining a committee, connecting with a college, or volunteering, she hopes she can give back to the industry she loves. 

When asked about her motivation in the field, Mary adds, “What pushes and invigorates me is knowing how much there is to learn, and how much variety there can be. I love the green industry because we not only produce plants from a commercial standpoint, for production and for profit, but we also get to teach people about the best ways to do it — and to watch the fruits of our labor when we succeed.” 

As the industry faces continual change and challenges, these scholars have the experience and potential to face the ebb and flow head-on. 

Like the scholarships that these recipients received, they embody what it means to be a part of floriculture and horticulture – truly motivated plant people inspired by the life they can breathe into the future of the industry. 

The Paul Ecke Jr. and Altman Family Scholarships exist to not only award aid to deserving recipients, but to provide meaningful support for the industry. To read more about these prestigious opportunities and to apply, click here. Applications are due by February 1st each year. 

By Shanley King, AFE’s Communications Coordinator