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GCA Scholarships Recipients: The Corliss Knapp Engle Scholarship in Horticulture


2018 James Fischer

James Fischer is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. His research focuses on how rising atmospheric CO2 can a ect leaf development, speci cally with respect to the production of leaf hairs (trichomes).  ese structures play major roles in defense against herbivores, enhancement of water retention, and production of essential oils. His work is contributing to a growing base of molecular knowledge available to plant breeders, horticulturists, and agronomists. Fischer is also interested in the imaging of plant structures through electron microscopy and macro photography and, generally, in the role of scienti c imagery in advancing student learning.

2018 Gisele Nighswander

Gisele Nighswander is a master’s degree student in the School of Forest Resources & Conservation at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. Her project, titled “ e Role of Vegetational Characteristics and Landscape Context in Controlling Arthropod Pests in Ornamental Gardens,” focuses on alpha (site) and beta (structural) diversity and complexity in various landscape environments.  This information can guide the design and placement of ornamental gardens in residential areas in order to limit pressures from arthropod pest herbivory and therefore reduce reliance on traditional chemical pest controls.

2018 Crystal Conner

Crystal Conner is a  rst-year PhD candidate in plant pathology at the University of Florida. She is conducting research on identifying blueberry plant genes that are resistant to bacterial wilt, which is fatal. In 2016 bacterial wilt, caused by the bacterium Ralstonia solanacearum, was isolated and con rmed on multiple blueberry farms in Florida. Conner is studying the blueberry genomes of both wild species and cultivars.  e blueberry industry in North America is rapidly growing, projecting a 25% increase in production over a four- year span, from 750.2 million pounds in 2015 to 940 million pounds in 2019. Fresh blueberry retail sales in the US were valued at $1.5 billion in 2015. Conner’s research will aid in the development of disease-resistant cultivars.

2018 Rob Straser

Rob Straser is a PhD candidate in the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Riverside. His research focuses on understanding under what conditions alternative management strategies in agriculture, such as on-farm habitat diversi cation, have the potential to promote viable natural enemy insect populations to bene t both crop yield and  nancial return on investments. Straser aims to provide comprehensive insights into the ecological and economic limitations of current techniques to enhance biological control. Furthermore, he seeks to provide new information to help develop more targeted and e ective strategies in integrated pest management for the delivery of ecosystem services.

2017 Nathan Jahnke

Nathan Jahnke is a master’s student in floriculture post-harvest handling at North Carolina State University. His research aims to improve the commercial viability of un-rooted Pelargonium cuttings (commonly known as geraniums) during shipment from Central and South America. He is studying the sensitivity of the cuttings to stresses such as temperature, disease, and ethylene. The fungus Botrytis cinerea (a necrotrophic fungus also known as gray mold) is capable of damaging hundreds of plant species. Ethylene gas and ethylene inhibitors are being tested as screening techniques for Botrytis susceptibility and prevention during shipping and storage of Pelargonium cuttings to help growers reduce losses and find new technology that will be more effective and safer for the environment.

2017 Natalie McMann

Natalie McMann is a master’s student in the Integrated Biosciences Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Her project is titled “Vascular Transport Capacity and Floral Water Use.” She aims to understand how physiological limitations may influence flowering time in woody species. Her research will examine trees and shrubs such as red maple and forsythia that flower before they leaf out to determine how the timing of plant emergence from winter dormancy affects water supply to the flowers and the relationship between floral water use and floral size.

2017 John Dindia

John Dindia is a master’s student in the Environmental Studies Graduate Program at the University of Montana with a focus on sustainable food and farming systems. He is working with Michigan State University to develop and convey IPM (integrated pest management) strategies to the rapidly expanding US hop industry. His research will focus on evaluating, identifying, and promoting best IPM strategies for major pests in emerging hop production regions in Michigan. He aims to develop phenology-based arthropod and disease decision aids to assist growers in hop-growing regions with pest management timing decisions.

2017 Jennifer Lauer

Jennifer Lauer is a master’s student in landscape architecture in the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York in Syracuse. Her research focuses on the cultural landscape of Rose Hill Farm in Geneva, New York. The site is notable for the development of field-drainage technology, which became a driving force in the economic transition from subsistence to merchant farming in mid-19th-century America. The Geneva Historical Society manages 27 acres of the original 350-acre property, including a Greek Revival mansion built in 1839, which is considered among the finest examples of its style in the nation. She will provide a cultural landscape report to help restore and preserve the site’s important horticultural heritage

2017 Melinda J. Knuth

Melinda J. Knuth is a PhD candidate in horticulture economics at Texas A&M University. Her research will focus on consumer preferences and economic trends in the floriculture industry as well as consumers’ perception of water conservation activities and their willingness to pay for a series of water-conserving plant attributes. She also has developed independent observation studies for floriculture companies, analyzing the cut flower value chain and movement efficiency. She plans to use eye tracking and neurological technology to analyze consumer preference of cut flower attributes to provide consumer data to growers, wholesalers, and retail firms.

2016 Megan Muehlbauer

Megan Muehlbauer is a PhD candidate in the Plant Biology and Pathology Department at Rutgers University.  The focus of her dissertation work is on the development and use of molecular and biochemical tools to assist in improving the breeding of European hazelnuts (Corylus avellana). Upon graduation her goal is to work as a professor/extension specialist and use molecular tools to help farmers grow improved crops.



Scholarship Opportunities Abound

The Garden Club of America offers 28 merit-based scholarships and fellowships in 12 areas related to conservation, ecology, horticulture, and pollinator research. In 2018, more than $308,400 was awarded to 65 scholars.

In its inaugural year, the Montine M. Freeman Scholarship in Native Plant Studies was awarded to Angela Merriken and Dr. Uma Venkatesh.

Read more about the new Scholarship and the recipients.