CALS Alumnus Highlight: Raymond Odeh
University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences alumnus Raymond Odeh earned his undergraduate degree in plant science in 2012. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors at the American Horticultural Therapy Association.
What brought you to CALS? What first sparked your interest in your major?
Upon acceptance to the University of Florida, I knew I wanted to absorb all of the knowledge and experience that UF had to offer related to plants and how plants permeate our everyday lives. Growing up gardening with my grandmother brought an awareness of plants, but it was not until volunteering with my local botanical garden, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in sunny Sarasota, Florida that I realized gardening was fascinating, dynamic, and therapeutic. I wanted to learn more about the benefits of gardening not just for myself, but to wield such benefits to help others.
Was there a particular CALS faculty/staff or mentor that was influential in your career path?
I was fortunate to have many mentors as I traversed my career path, and many were in CALS. From the beginning Bart Schutzman, lecturer in the Department of Environmental Horticulture, helped guide me on a path of horticultural curiosity and taught me much about plant taxonomy, ethnobotany, and Integrated Pest Management strategies (and organization, among many employability skills). As I worked with Bart I met a number of individuals who also became great mentors including Sandy Wilson, Wendy Wilber, and Esen Momol. Being surrounded by sage advisors helped me gain information about upcoming career fairs, scholarship/grant opportunities, and networking events across the local, state and federal systems. As I grew in CALS, my major advisor Charlie Guy was monumental in helping me grow as a critical thinker, detailed researcher, and ethical person. After performing undergraduate research with Charlie, we discussed opportunities for me to pursue a graduate degree and he turned out to be my major advisor. Charlie helped me gain confidence in my abilities, supported my many interests, and propelled me in a strong direction in the horticulture industry.
What do you find to be the coolest/best part of your job/career?
The coolest part of my job is when I get to work one-on-one with clients in a horticultural therapy session. More than anything, I relish in those moments when a client starts to engage with the gardening and feels confident in their abilities to cultivate not only the plants, but to cultivate themselves. I recall one time in particular when I spent several sessions working with a client who was completely nonverbal at first. She didn’t want to touch the dirt or interact with the plants. After I gave her a pair of gloves, she started to interact and helped me plant a patchouli plant in a raised bed. To my surprise she also started to talk and had a huge smile on her face after the satisfaction of planting her first plant. Moments like these reinvigorate my passion for horticulture and our connection to plants.
What are some exciting projects you have worked on in the course of your career?
A unique and interesting project was working on the team which designed and installed the Salvador Dali: Gardens of the Mind exhibition at Marie Selby Botanical Garden. The full process of putting on a horticulture show for the public allowed me to synthesize creative and scientific techniques, which was rather exciting. Techniques I learned during my time as a plant science major allowed me to thrive in the fast-paced botanical garden horticulture realm.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in the same major/career path as you?
The best advice I can pass on to a current student would be to engage with green industries at multiple levels to gain a diversity of perspectives on career paths. This may include private landscaping companies, public parks and gardens, research/teaching opportunities, governmental agencies, and breeding and nursery operations. Paid internships are very helpful to get a jump start on work experience to act as a launch pad into your first job.
“Looking back, internships are a succinct way to understand the dynamics of the different sectors of the horticulture industry and can help one settle into the best path for them early in one’s career.” – Raymond Odeh
The Plant Science major offers diverse specializations that provide a wide range of professional opportunities. The specializations are designed to provide students with an interdisciplinary perspective and pursue coursework that offer a wide variety of job opportunities. Find a CALS major that suits your interests by taking our majors quiz. You can also find information regarding our undergraduate and graduate programs on our website. Questions for Raymond Odeh about his experiences in the Plant Science Department should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.