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MREC Students Receive Scholarship from Local Garden Club


The Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club has generously supported four UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center students with academic scholarships for the Fall 2017 semester.

Three scholarship recipients are undergraduate plant science majors, Shawn Schutte, Travis Marois and Kevin Dewansingh, and the fourth student, Crystal Conner, is a first-year graduate student pursuing a doctorate degree in plant pathology.

“The funds that I received in the past have allowed me to purchase books, help with tuition and help pay for other expenses that come with being a college student,’ said Shawn Schutte, a UF plant science senior and three-time recipient of the scholarship. “The funds that were provided to me have helped ease the financial burden that comes with being a college student.”

Student Travis Marois (center, right) brought miniature succulents to say ‘thank you’ to the club.

Each student will receive $1600 to pay for academic costs, including tuition, books and course fees. The students accepted their scholarships at the garden club’s first meeting of the year, their ‘Welcome Back’ Coffee event, and got the opportunity to chat with the its members and watch a flower arrangement auction with original floral designs created by members.

Travis Marois, a UF plant science senior, said he focuses on management practices to maximize plant quality while maintaining production schedules and profitability.

“This is where my education from the University of Florida has been useful, as the coursework in the degree program places a strong emphasis on best management practices when growing plants for profit,” Marois said.

Students are motivated to learn more about the environmental horticulture field and this scholarship in particular will help to achieve these academic goals and eventually dream jobs.

Faculty member Brian Pearson (standing, center) speaks to Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club members and MREC students at the scholarship reception

“I grew up in New York City, where growing spaces are relatively limited and cherished for that reason,” said Kevin Dewansingh, a UF plant science junior. “After moving to Florida, my desire to learn more about the industry grew with all of the new plants I encountered.”

Crystal Conner, the only graduate student to win this scholarship, mentioned she is now able to attend the 2017 American Society for Horticultural Science Annual Conference in Hawaii to present her research and network in her field, an expensive but exciting break from her studies.

“Once I obtain my PhD, the dream job for me would be working in a lab researching tissue culture and propagation to aid in breeding for future food production, and to assist commercial growers through extension outreach,” Conner said.

The Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club remains active in the local gardening community with their annual Garden Fair and Card Party events, sponsoring youth campers at Camp Wekiva and hosting floral design workshops with the goal “…of our friendships grow[ing] stronger, just as our gardens,” according to the club’s website.

For more information about the Sweetwater Oaks Garden club, visit

Academic and Outreach Coordinator Angela Colonna (left) joins MREC students and Sweetwater Oaks member Lisa Richcreek for scholarship presentations

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