Plant Sciences professors spearhead projects to advance graduate and postgraduate training

Associate Professor Maeli Melotto, left, and Professor Charlie Brummer have received NIFA grants for projects that advance leadership and diversity in graduate and postgraduate programs.
Associate Professor Maeli Melotto, left, and Professor Charlie Brummer have received NIFA grants for projects that advance leadership and diversity in graduate and postgraduate programs.

From encouraging increased diversity to an innovative leadership program that employs interdisciplinary training in soil and plant health, two professors are spearheading projects that advance graduate and postgraduate training in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis.

Charlie Brummer, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, will lead a program that seeks to recruit two doctoral and two master’s students in plant breeding from underrepresented groups.

In their selection process, Brummer and his team will collaborate with Devin Horton, a UC Davis graduate diversity officer for STEM, and California State University campuses like CSU Fresno, which is federally recognized as a Hispanic-serving institution.

The program will focus on the theory and practice of advanced genetic tools for product oriented breeding methods. Students will complete a standard plant breeding curriculum with the opportunity to join student-led breeding programs as team members, leaders, and mentors. Additionally, they will be mentored by industry leaders from California and will participate in professional and agricultural business events.

By completing the program, the students will be ideally prepared for a professional career in plant breeding, specifically one that focuses on the enhancement of both production and nutritional quality of the nation’s food and feed supplies.

Maeli Melotto, associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, has instituted a program entitled Leadership Excellence Across Practice and Science, or LEAPS. Designed for four graduate students, the program works to reconcile the need to feed a growing population with the conservation of resources, such as soil.

LEAPS addresses this by providing a holistic study of agricultural microbiomes, a key component for any agricultural strategy that seeks to enhance sustainability and resiliency in the field. It also builds upon the research of the Melotto Lab, which focuses on the interactions between microbiota and plants.

“In the five-year program, students will not only study plant biology, microbiology, and agricultural management alongside molecular biology and machine learning, but gain hands-on experience in research, teaching, and extension for commercial fields as they work with real-world growers,” said Melotto. “This will allow the students to explore and hone their leadership skills, ensuring their future success as high-level professionals."

Both projects are made possible by the National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants Program, or NNF, which is awarded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Applications are currently open in the LEAPS program. For more information and to apply, click here.

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