For Conor McKee and Jacob Ewert, the physical demands of greenhouse work were a surprise. It’s one thing to be told a greenhouse is hot. It’s another to swelter in one for hours.
Conor and Jacob, plant science majors in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, have learned hydroponics and experimented with soil amendments under the tutelage of Dr. Kim Moore in her greenhouses at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. They also proved they can handle the heat.
I will insist all day long that CALS is the best in the business. Not only do our award-winning faculty offer top-notch instruction, but Dean Elaine Turner has consistently supported ways for students to learn outside traditional classrooms. This includes undergraduate research, internships, study abroad, leadership conferences and professional symposia.
Moore, with help from some FNGLA members, provides the kind of hands-on learning which supplements a CALS education. Dean Turner and I want to expand and enrich these opportunities.
We call it the Vice President’s Promise. It’s our pledge that every CALS undergraduate will have a real opportunity to engage in at least one meaningful beyond-the-classroom experience during their time with us.
When Conor and Jacob weren’t running experiments in her greenhouse, Moore had them visit Black Olive East Nursery to talk with professionals about growing plants and hardwoods. She also asked Conor and Jacob to step back for a few days and think, and to come back to her with their ideal job descriptions.
Conor had a notion that he was interested in growing plants, but the assignment crystallized his vision for the future. After graduation, he wants to run a commercial greenhouse hydroponics operation. Three to five years later, he wants to own one. Jacob enjoys teaching, and he used the time to think about a career in environmental education.
Moore could pay Conor and Jacob in part because of support from the National Horticulture Foundation. Getting paid to immerse themselves in research and industry outreach means they didn’t have to look for part-time jobs in addition to interning.
We all know opportunity costs. We want these to be opportunities all students can afford. Dean Turner and I launched the fund-raising portion of the initiative at the UF/IFAS virtual Dinner of Distinction, and Conor and Jacob were among the students who testified at the event about the value of their experiences with Moore.
The money we raise will defray the cost of outside-the-classroom learning–providing a stipend so a student can afford an unpaid internship, or covering travel costs for study abroad, for example.
This is so important to me and my wife Kay that we pledged $10,000 to start the initiative. I hope you’ll consider joining us as donors. Visit https://give.ifas.ufl.edu/VPPromise/ , email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 352-392-1975.
There are some things students can learn best from you. It’s better if they start learning it before you’ve hired them. Internships are one way you can audition a prospective future employee.
I made a promise to our undergraduates they’ll get opportunities like Conor and Jacob’s. I’m counting on FNGLA members to donate to our growing fund to support those opportunities, and to offer students real-world experience in your greenhouses, at your nurseries and in your offices to help me keep this promise.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).