In early August, eight UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) students attended the 120th American Society for Horticultural Sciences (ASHS) Annual Conference in Orlando. The conference brings together industry professionals and students to discuss new research and technologies in horticultural sciences.
Undergraduate student participants who received VP Promise funding included:
- Kenneth Wayne Baker, horticultural science senior
- Sarah Benchea, food science sophomore
- Kiara Bookman, horticultural science senior
- Melanie Cabrera, 2023 plant science graduate
- Ruby Noland, horticultural science junior
- Taylor Sawyer, 2023 biology graduate
- Faith Twinamaani, 2023 horticultural science graduate
- John Weckbaugh, horticultural science junior
The students attended several speaker sessions and interactive workshops over the course of the conference. As student members, they were also able to network with industry professionals and graduate program contacts. Twinamaani led a student tour at the Mid-Florida Research & Education Center, Agristarts, and Moss Hill Foliage.
Baker, Bookman, Noland, and Weckbaugh gave two group presentations on their research. Their research focused on college students’ perceptions and consumption of organic food products. Data for their study was obtained through a survey distributed to horticultural sciences professor Xin Zhao’s Organic Agriculture Development and Regulations class.
Cabrera and Twinamaani presented their research in the undergraduate oral presentation competition while Benchea and Sawyer exhibited their research in the undergraduate poster competition. The oral presentations consisted of a 12-minute discussion and a three-minute question and answer session with the audience. The poster competition was an eight- to 15-minute presentation with a research poster.
Cabrera’s research focused on analyzing the accuracy of PlantCV to extract phenotypic data from images. PlantCV is a new technology in plant science that is used to automate phenotypic analysis. Cabrera found that the technology had a high accuracy rate of 96%.
Twinamaani assessed the accuracy of spectral indices when measuring chlorophyll in blueberry plants. The spectral indices she studied are combinations of reflections from two or more wavelengths, which signify areas of chlorophyll. These areas of interest helped Twinamaani to study the physiology of the southern highbush blueberry plant.
Benchea evaluated taste profiles for 23 varieties of broccoli within the Gainesville community. This research was part of a larger research project that is conducting nutrition trials with broccoli varieties. Benchea found consumers are more likely to enjoy sweeter types of broccoli.
Sawyer studied genetic factors related to photosynthesis in the Fragaria x ananassa (Duch.) strawberry. She found differences in photosynthetic responses to light, a positive correlation between photosynthesis and transpiration rates, and genetic variation in the maximum photosynthetic rate. Sawyer hopes to use this research to make breeding recommendations to maximize yield and water use efficiencies. She recently started in the plant breeding Ph.D. program UF.
“Winning second place in the undergraduate poster competition was an incredible honor, but the real prize was the knowledge, inspiration and connections I gained throughout the conference,” said Sawyer. “The ASHS Annual Conference heightened my excitement about the future of horticulture, and I am thankful to have been able to attend this immersive experience through the funding provided by the VP Promise Award.”
The VP Promise is an initiative to provide financial assistance for students pursuing experiences in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources. CALS supports student success both inside and outside of the classroom and encourages students to broaden their perspectives through enriching opportunities such as study abroad programs and travel to conferences. For more information on the VP Promise visit the CALS website.