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UF/IFAS Awards First Stern Graduate Scholarship

When Lake City forester Roland T. Stern passed in 2017, his family chose to honor his legacy by supporting the next generation of foresters. For several years, the Roland T. Stern Endowment Scholarship was awarded to undergraduate students in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation (SFRC). Now, for the first time, the endowment will also support a graduate student, Simon Ernstsons.

Simon smiling with a tree

Ernstsons, the first recipient of the Stern Graduate Student Scholarship, manages research projects in Florida, at the UF/IFAS Austin Cary Forest, and abroad.

Ernstsons is a second-year Forest Resources and Conservation Ph.D. student. His advisor, Jiri Hulcr, associate professor in forest entomology, nominated him for the award.

“Simon joined my lab from Harper Adams University, where he enrolled after several years of working in the forestry industry in England, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere. He is now almost completely independently managing research projects locally and internationally,” Hulcr said. “I have never had a student like him.”

One of the award requirements is that the students have a connection to the UF/IFAS Austin Cary Forest (ACF), which was a special place to Stern. Ernstsons uses the Forest to research the black turpentine beetle, a native bark beetle which periodically causes mortality among southern pines. Working with a pheromone development company, Ernstsons is trying to create a luring method that could be used by land managers.

“Simon is at the Forest twice a week, managing his traps, collecting and identifying wood-boring beetles, refilling lures and more,” Hulcr said. “For that reason, he has also been classified as essential personnel during this time of university closure and continues working in the Forest every week.”

Ernstsons’ international research is just as impressive. He works with a network of collaborators in Asian forest health projects spanning language, cultural, and geographical barriers. Ernstsons also manages the lab’s sentinel garden in China.

“In these gardens, we plant American trees overseas – in this case, in China – in order to detect if there are any aggressive wood-borers that might one day make their way to the U.S. as invasive species,” Ernstsons said. “We want to get ahead of such problems.”

Ernstsons considers himself lucky to be able to travel around the world working in the forestry industry. He, like Stern, feels a connection to the Austin Cary Forest.

“Working at ACF is a real joy and the site is a credit to the SFRC. It is my hope that the work we have undertaken there can contribute to sustaining the health of global forest ecosystems,” Ernstsons said. “I am very grateful to SFRC and the Stern family for the scholarship and for affording me the opportunity to work in such a beautiful environment.”