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Senior profiles

Seminar video: The WVU Organic Farm – 15 years of research and education

If you missed Monday’s Horticulture Section seminar, The WVU Organic Farm – 15 years of research and education  with Sven Verlinden, Associate Professor, Division of Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University, it  is available online.

More seminar videos: Horticulture | School of Integrative Plant Science

Senior profile: David Bower

David Bower measuring grapevine photosynthesis with a CIRAS-1 portable photosynthesis system.

David Bower measuring grapevine photosynthesis with a CIRAS-1 portable photosynthesis system.

Fifth in a series of profiles celebrating the Class of 2011.

Majors: Plant Sciences, Viticulture and Enology

Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I was always interested in plants. As an Eagle Scout project, I renovated the landscaping at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester. And I helped my father convert an apple orchard and cider mill into a vineyard and winery, planting 40 acres of vines by hand and producing our first wines in 2006. (Mayers Lake Ontario Winery.) I knew Cornell was good in Plant Sciences and had started a Viticulture and Enology major, so it was a good match. And if I decided to go the pre-med route I could do that too.

What was the best part of your Cornell education?

Cornell gave me chance to do my own research and get involved as a teaching assistant for four of the viticulture and enology courses. I did wine chemistry research with Kathy Arnink, vine stress physiology research on Riesling and methoxypyrazine research on Cabernet Franc with Alan Lakso. I also worked with Kathy, Ian Merwin and other students to plan and plant Cornell’s first organic vineyard at Cornell Orchards. Some of this research was the first of its kind in my field. This was great for me because of my commitment to research and teaching, and most importantly giving back to field.

What Cornell-related scholarships did you receive?

The Nelson J. Shaulis Award for the Advancement of Viticulture supported my research with Alan.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most?

All of the faculty I did research with, especially Kathy. She really took my under her wing and was a great role model. Much of what she instilled in me as a young student has transferred to the present day mostly in the form of my love for research and my commitment to the students and to Viticulture and Enology. Peter Cousins is a great teacher, role model and friend. He spent many hours working with me in a hands-on way to learn the aspects of modern viticulture and basic grape genetics and physiology.

I really liked the hands-on nature of my education here. I was one of the first students to experience all of the aspects of the Cornell Viticulture and Enology program. I was able to develop my own research projects, grow and plant grapevines, harvest the grapes, and conduct experimental winemaking trials based on my own program. I analyzed the wines chemically and physically, and was able to conduct my own research panel from this and teach about my research to a large introductory class as a Teaching Assistant. I could not ask for much more!

What were your main extracurricular activities at Cornell?

I worked as an Orientation Leader and an Orientation Supervisor for New Student Orientation. I spent many hours working with students even after Orientation ended, sharing experiences and helping them through their day-to-day problems. I still keep in touch with many of my students. New-student Orientation took tons of time but it was great for me to be able to share my love for Cornell with all of the new students.

I was also a Social Programming Director in Willard Straight Hall, planning dances, concerts, and weekly events that were attended by many students. I worked for Colleges against Cancer on the programming board, using my time to implement two Relays for Life. I was the Social Programming Director for my fraternity in which I implemented a program in conjunction with the Ithaca Youth Bureau that has raised over $6,000 to date.

And in 2009 I started a company called in2ition music with my friend Kai Keane. We create videos and musical interpretations of electronic music for events all around campus and Cornell. Recently, we developed a show for the Johnson Art Museum’s recent gallery opening. You can find us at

What was one of your greatest challenges at Cornell?

The coursework. It was difficult but rewarding. Also, balancing everything together to make sure I took care of all of my responsibilities.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?

I applied to grad schools and eventually want to get a Ph.D. because I’m driven to teach. But first I want to get a job, possibly in Extension, where I can help better the industry and give back to growers.

Senior profile: Jeffry Petracca

Jeffry Petracca (right) in the Butterfly Room at Insectapalooza

Jeffry Petracca (right) in the Butterfly Room at Insectapalooza

Fourth in a series of profiles celebrating the Class of 2011.

Majors: Plant Sciences, Entomology, Biological Statistics and Neurobiology along with a business minor. I also fell one course short of having a Biometry minor.

Hometown: Huntington, N.Y.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I’ve always been passionate about insects, science, and math. I worked at a butterfly house for six years before I came here, and I raised giant silk moths on my own each summer since I was 12. Caring for them and feeding them made me realize that to really understand insects, I had to develop a knowledge of plants, too.

I visited Cornell as a high school sophomore and instantly fell in love. I am convinced that there is no other school that I would have chosen over Cornell that would have been a better fit for me.

Did you have any turning points at Cornell?

While taking some plant science courses, I realized that plants are amazing, too – especially when it comes to chemical ecology, communication, and defense. Not only do plants communicate with each other via chemicals in ways similar to insects, but they also take chemical measures to deal with herbivory! When caterpillars feed on a plant, for example, the plant releases chemicals that cause neighboring plants to increase their defenses. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it.

What was your main extracurricular activity?

The most important activity that I’ve been involved with on campus is tutoring and serving as a teaching assistant for math and entomology courses. These experiences have confirmed something that I already suspected: that I really love teaching and sharing what I know.

I’ve also been very active in Insectapalooza, a one-day science fair oriented to kids and families that the Department of Entomology puts on every year. During my sophomore year, I created a butterfly room where visitors to Insectapalooza could come and walk amongst live butterflies and plants! I have worked to make the butterfly room a more attractive exhibit each year with the help of undergraduates and faculty in the Department of Entomology, and have expanded to displaying exotic butterflies from Central and South America. It has become one of the visitor’s favorite displays at Insectapalooza, as a result!

Who influenced your Cornell education the most?

Dr. Linda Rayor and Dr. Cole Gilbert, two of the entomology faculty, have been tremendously generous with their time and very supportive of my rather unique interests throughout my time at Cornell. Dr. Rayor, who is interested in the ecological dynamics of social spiders, has helped me to realize my passion for education and Dr. Gilbert, who has worked on various aspects of insect physiology, such as vision, has frequently provided me with both academic and career guidance. Both of them have always been approachable and easy to talk to, and my time at Cornell would not have been the same without them.

Did you find Cornell challenging?

The short answer is “no,” though there have been instances when I have felt incredibly overwhelmed. If you work hard, it’s not as intimidating as some people would have you believe. I think it helped that I know and am comfortable with the fact that I can’t be good at everything. You have to prioritize and choose where you want to put your energy, and also realize that if you have ever have any sort of problem at Cornell, be it academic or personal, you can always find someone to help you out.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?

Over the summer, I’m going to be teaching an ACT and SAT prep course for the Revolution Ivy Summer Management Program. I’m also applying for jobs that combine my interests and skills in science and education.

One of my life goals is to open a huge butterfly house. Butterflies make people happy, and it’s an opportunity to educate them more about nature.

Senior Profile: Steve Huysman

stephen-huysmanx350Third in a series of profiles celebrating the Class of 2011.

Major: Plant Sciences

Hometown: Bayville, N.Y.

Why did you choose Cornell?

Some of my relatives went to Cornell and I visited the campus for my cousins’ graduations. So I knew a lot about what it was like here. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after high school, so I liked that Cornell offered such a diversity of areas of study. I initially thought I wanted to study something related to math or computer science, but also had a burgeoning interest in the natural world.

I also knew that I wanted to study abroad and I knew that I had many options with Cornell Abroad. I spent my junior year at the University of Tasmania in Australia where I did independent research on the photobiology of peas using genetic techniques.

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?

I had several. I started out majoring in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. I took biology my freshman year and really liked it, so I switched to Plant Sciences. When I took George Hudler’s class Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds during freshman year, I was really inspired to continue down that path. I’ve taken a lot of paradigm-shifting classes, and they’re usually the ones I go into expecting to get the least out of. I keep finding new things to be passionate about.

What was your main extracurricular activity? Why is it important to you?

I was in the mushroom hunting club sophomore year and am a member of the Long Island Mycological Club back home. George Hudler’s class really opened my eyes to a new lifetime hobby. When I was in Australia, I joined the scuba and bushwalking clubs.

I really wanted some real research experience, so I volunteered in Taryn Baurle’s lab in the Department of Horticulture studying endophytes – fungal symbionts that live inside plant cells. Now I’m working more on computational biology, looking at methods to analyze CT scans of roots. I’m really fascinated by the push to develop computational and quantitative techniques in the biological sciences.

What was one of your greatest challenges attending Cornell?

At first I was intimidated because it seemed like everyone was much smarter than I was. After a while, I started to learn how to really apply myself. I guess that, in a way, learning how to approach and solve problems is what school’s supposed to be about.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?

Nothing concrete yet. I’m trying to find an opportunity to work or study abroad again and hopefully get some more research experience. After I satisfy my travel bug I want to go back to school for a master’s degree or a doctorate.

Senior profile: Elizabeth Buck

Elizabeth Buck at Ag Day on the Ag Quad.

Elizabeth Buck at Ag Day on the Ag Quad.

Second in a series of profiles celebrating the Class of 2011.

Majors: Plant Sciences, Agricultural Sciences

Hometown: Pine City, N.Y.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I attended 4-H Career Explorations on campus every summer since middle school. I fell in love with the campus and all the friendly open-minded people here who encouraged us to explore ideas.

What was you main Cornell extracurricular activity? Why is it important to you?

I’m a member of Alpha Zeta, the co-ed, ag-based fraternity. In addition to sponsoring and organizing Ag Day on campus, we’re very involved in philanthropy. We raised money for 4-H and to help farmers whose barns burned down. We even organized a group of volunteers to help with cranberry harvest on a fraternity brother’s farm in Massachusetts over fall break.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most?

The huge number of hands-on classes in the plant sciences. I work best when there’s a blend of theory and practice.

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?

After my sophomore year, I did a summer internship with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County, working with high tunnels (unheated greenhouses that help farmers extend their growing season for vegetables, fruit and flowers). It helped me realize that I really like field research. Before that, I thought getting a Masters degree would be a chore. Now I know that research can be fun and relevant. Last summer, I did more field research as an intern at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, working on cover crops to suppress weeds and improve soil health.

Did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

Coming to Ithaca was mind-opening. I’ve learned to think critically about complicated systems without getting overwhelmed – knowing that I can understand them and change them.

What was one of your greatest challenges attending Cornell?

Learning how to study. It’s a whole different game than in high school. But once you get the hang of it, it’s a wonderful environment for learning. I also learned that grades don’t necessarily reflect how much you get out of a class. Some of the classes where I learned the most I didn’t necessarily make my best grades.

Any advice for freshmen?

There are so many opportunities here. Find what inspires you and put your heart into it. But don’t forget to stop and make friends, grab pizza and watch the sunset.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?

I want to get my Masters because I’d really like to work for Cooperative Extension. It’s a good place to help people solve problems, and there are opportunities to do research, too. But to be a good educator I think you need to understand growing operations on all levels. I got a lot of experience working in my family’s greenhouse. Now I want to go out and get more experience working with fruit and vegetable growers before I start grad school. I’m a very practical person.

Senior profile: Lauren Seccurra

Lauren Securra at work in the herb garden at Cornell Plantations

Lauren Securra at work in the herb garden at Cornell Plantations

First in a series of profiles celebrating the Class of 2011.

Major: Plant sciences with a concentration in horticulture

Hometown: Sherrill, N.Y.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I came to Cornell to major in Landscape Architecture. There are smaller schools with landscape architecture programs, but they didn’t offer all the other courses to explore outside the major. And there are so many other opportunities for learning here – lectures, concerts, libraries, and people from all over the world. Coming from a small high school, I saw Cornell’s diversity as a great opportunity to meet many people from all over the world.

What was your main extracurricular activity? Why was it important to you?

I learned a lot about leadership and teamwork as a member of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity. I served on the executive board and worked on conference planning and event hosting, and now I have a supportive network of friends all over the country.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most?

I had so many great professors who helped along the way – too many to mention. If you’re struggling with something, they’re willing to help. I had good support here.

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?

My sophomore year, I took Creating the Urban Eden – a course where you learn about the woody plants used in landscape design. Then the following summer, I got a lot of hands-on experience as a Botanical Collections intern at Cornell Plantations. From those experiences, I realized that in order to make good landscape design decisions, you have to know a lot about the plants. So I switched my major to Plant Sciences.

Did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

I learned that a balance between art and science is very valuable, especially when making design decisions. I came to realize that I like a balance of the two approaches.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

My summer internships. In 2009 at Cornell Plantations, I got to get my hands dirty working outside in the sunshine and got a good feel for public garden management and education. I could take pride in seeing the gardens really come to life and help beautify our campus.

In 2010, I worked on the flower trials at Bluegrass Lane Turf and Landscape Research Center just off campus. In addition to growing the flowers, we helped host a conference and field day, made floral arrangements, and attended a floriculture conference.

Any advice for freshmen?

Get to know all the great things the area has to offer: The Dairy Bar, The Commons, Cayuga Lake, the Farmers Market and the festivals – especially the Apple Festival in the fall.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?

I’m still looking for a job. I’m hoping for something where I can put my skills and interests in public gardens, flowers and event planning to work. Meantime, I’ve lined up a great internship in the Disney Professional Horticulture Internship Program. It should be a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

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