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Spotlight on Jesús

Graduate Student Jesús Martínez-Gómez appears in today’s Student Spotlight by the Graduate School.  A few highlights are below:

Jesús Martínez-Gómez is a doctoral candidate in plant biology from Ferndale, Washington. After attending the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington as an undergraduate, he decided to pursue further study at Cornell for his advisor and the facilities.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

I am a sucker for origin stories. I love superhero movies where protagonists find their superpowers and use it to save the day. Their origins will often contextualize their future struggles as they deal with the ramification of their superpowers. I think evolutionary biology is one big origin story. We strive to identify the origin of species relationships or the genes which produce diverse structures. These stories are compelling as they tell us where we come from and how the world around us is related. Plants in particular pose one of the largest origin story questions as they are so diverse and so important to our everyday life. 

2020 Graduate Rosy Glos wins Merrill Presidential Scholarship

Huge congratulations to Rosy Glos for being named as a 2020 Merrill Presidential Scholar. Rosy is one of 35 students at Cornell to receive this prestigious award, highlighting her place in the top 1% of graduating seniors. Since 1988, the Merrill Presidential Scholars Program has honored Cornell University’s most outstanding graduating seniors, while also recognizing the teachers who have played a significant role in ensuring their success. Each scholar selected is given an opportunity to recognize the high school teacher who most inspired their scholastic development and the Cornell faculty member who most significantly contributed to their college experience. In a normal year, we’d be celebrating Rosy at a lovely convocation ceremony in which both the faculty member (me!!!) and Rosy’s botany high school teacher, David Streib, from New Roots School would be present.  One of the amazing aspects of the Merrill Scholarship is the direct way in which Rosy will now be giving back to her community: A STAR (Special Teachers Are Recognized) Scholarship will be named in honor of David Streib, awarded to a Cornell student with financial need from Rosy’s hometown.

Click here for more information about the Merrill Presidential Scholarship Program and the 2020 cohort of scholars.

Rosy worked on two fundamental research projects in the Specht Lab:  she first worked with Erika Styger in IP-CALS and traveled to Suriname to meet with farmers and collect rice seed in order to investigate links between genotype and phenotype in cultivated rice of the Sa’amaka people; then switched gears to complete an honors thesis in collaboration with NSF Postdoctoral Fellow Shayla Salzman, characterizing diversity and evolution of leaf anatomical traits across the cycad genus Zamia.  For her senior thesis project, Rosy travelled to the Montgomery Botanical Center and Fairchild Botanical Gardens (Miami, Florida) to collect, preserve, section, and stain leaf material from their living collections.  Rosy continues to stain and image Zamia leaves from her home base on Kingbird Farm located just southeast of Ithaca NY.


Plant Science Undergraduate Symposium – Specht Lab highlights

Three undergraduates affiliated with the Specht Lab over their years at Cornell presented research seminars at the annual Plant Science Undergraduate Symposium today (May 13th) via zoom.  Rosy Glos presented her senior thesis research on leaf anatomy across the genus Zamia; Zhaoqi Wang presented on his research (also mentored by Shayla Salzman) looking at environmental correlates of leaf morphology in Zamia; Martha Williams provided insights into the work she did with Cornell Cooperative Extension developing programs for Garden Based Learning in Queens, NY.  The symposium highlighted the work of the 25 Plant Science 2020 Graduates who have contributed to research across SIPS (

Graduating Senior Rosy Glos wins BSA and SUNY excellence awards

Rosemary Glos,  Plant Science 2020, is wrapping up her time at Cornell with a very large bang. In early April, Rosy was notified of being awarded a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence that highlights her academic accomplishments as well as her outstanding leadership and community service that formed part of her stellar undergraduate career.  Rosy is one of only four Cornell students to win the award this year!

Rosy was also selected for a Young Botanist award from the Botanical Society of America in recognition for her excellence in the botanical sciences and her participation in BSA activities.  This award will provide her with a free year membership to BSA in addition to access to the American Journal of Botany.

Rosy will be presenting her senior thesis research on 13 May 2020.  A link will be posted here!!

Graduate Seminars Galore

Graduate students Heather Phillips, Adriana Hernández, and Clarice Guan will all be presenting their student seminars this spring via Zoom.  Contact us for the link to see upcoming seminars live, or follow the links to check out their recorded videos.

Heather’s video from April 17, 2020:

Adriana’s video from April 24, 2020:

April showers bring some good news! Clarice NSF GRFP, Aaliyah and Jason BSA URAs!

The current COVID19 pandemic has greatly impacted the daily lives of the Specht lab members. But in these uncertain times we have some much needed good news to share!

Clarice Guan has been awarded a 2020 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation! This NSF GRFP award will support Clarice in their endeavors to study the mysteries of phyllotaxy using the enigmatic genus Costus as a model lineage.

In addition, undergraduates Aaliyah Holliday and Jason Rose have both been named as recipients of a 2020 Botanical Society of America Undergraduate Research Awards! Aaliyah was funded for computational resources to expand her collection of inflorescence morphology across the Monocots in project code name: Monocot Empire. While Jason will being a new line of inquire exploring Liliales inflorescence morphology. You can see their names in lights on the BSA website here and read more about the Undergraduate Student Research Awards and their goals for promoting undergraduate excellence in research here.

Head shot of Aaliyah HolidayHeadshot of Jason RoseWe congratulate the awardees and are excited to follow their new discoveries!

Rosy and Jason win CALS research awards!

Rosy Glos and Jason Rose, two fabulous Specht lab undergrads, received undergrad awards last year! Jason was awarded the CALS Dextra Undergraduate Research Endowment Fund for his proposal titled, “Inflorescence Structure and Development in Liliales: What is the Ancestral State of the Liliales Order?”.

Rosy was award not one but TWO awards, she was also a recipient of the CALS Dextra Undergraduate Research Endowment Fund and an award from the CALS Alumni Association. These will fund her thesis research title, “Leaflet Structural Varian in Zamia (Cycadales: Zamiaceae): Does Anatomy Follow Phylogeny and Geography?” We look forward to the exciting results that come from their work! Congratulations!

Adriana advances to Candidacy

Congratulations to Adriana Hernandez for passing her A exam and advancing to candidacy on December 13th 2019.  Adriana’s committee consisted of Professors Kevin Nixon, Monica Geber, and Rob Raguso who questioned her on ecological and evolutionary genetics focusing on diversification of Calochortus venustus and the California flora more broadly.        

Shayla gives Plant Bio Seminar

Dr. Shayla Salzman presented her doctoral research as well as future directions for her NSF-funded postdoctoral fellowship research as part of the Section of Plant Biology seminar series.  If you happened to miss it live — well, you missed a great introduction to Cycads, symbioses, and Shayla and the work that she does to investigate how relationships drive evolutionary innovation.

But fortunately, you can catch it as a recorded version right here:

Adriana represents CALS Cornell at #SACNAS2019

SACNAS Cornell Chapter and recruiter group photo

Adriana on day 1 of the conference. All attendees received a welcome lei.


I attended my first SACNAS Conference from Oct 31-Nov 2 in Honolulu, Hawaii. SACNAS is an inclusive organization that promotes and supports the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in science. Our very own Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, professor Emeritus in Plant Biology at Cornell, was a founding member of SACNAS. I was a member of my local chapter as an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara, but I didn’t get the opportunity to attend the national conference until this year. With over 5,000 attendees, I was overwhelmed by the level of community and engagement our SACNAS membership has to offer.

I was invited to present a poster on one of my dissertation projects, testing the ring species hypothesis on the hypervariable Calochortus venustus. I received feedback on my future directions and made connections with soil scientists. I even got to present to some of my Yale Ciencias Academy fellows!

Adriana presents her poster to YCA fellows

I was most excited about recruiting prospective graduate students for CALS Cornell and getting undergrads excited about biodiversity and organismal biology. Passing on my knowledge of navigating academia as an URM – a first gen immigrant, a POC, a woman, a first gen college grad, a low-income student – is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have accomplished in my career. What’s more exciting is that I was also able to help students who were in my field, plant biology and evolutionary biology, and share my experience specifically as a graduate student at Cornell.

Cornell booth with informational brochures and free swag

2020 Conference advertisement






I look forward to SACNAS 2020 in Long Beach, CA! If you are a student interested in attending future SACNAS conferences, check their website for travel scholarship opportunities in the early spring.

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