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University of Florida professor garners Superior Accomplishment Award

Dr. Lorenzo Rossi with tree saplings in the Rossi Plant Root Biology Laboratory at IRREC

Lorenzo Rossi with tree saplings in a lab at Indian River Research and Education Center. Photo taken 05-29-19.

FORT PIERCE, Fla.—An early career research scientist with a novel approach to mentor students and foster collegial teamwork, Lorenzo Rossi is a University of Florida Superior Accomplishment Award recipient.

Recognition for the achievement comes from UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences administrators (UF/IFAS). Rossi is an assistant professor of plant root biology at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) in Fort Pierce, where 11 research scientists and two regional extension leaders work to protect crops and Florida’s natural resources.

Rossi has for three years led research in his root biology laboratory, where he guides national and international students, interns, and visiting scientists as they advance knowledge about root systems and plant health. The work they perform involves the rhizosphere, which is the soil environment surrounding plant roots, water and organisms that impact root architecture systems. Rossi aims to improve crop performance and the plants’ ability to resist disease.

“Dr. Rossi has proved himself to be a superb teacher, researcher, dedicated to his science, students, and UF,” said Ronald D. Cave, who nominated Rossi for the designation. Cave is Rossi’s supervisor and director for the UF/IFAS IRREC.

Cave notes Rossi’s unique talents as an innovator in course development. Rossi designed the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) first online root biology course. The course, Root and Rhizosphere Ecology, garnered two awards this year. The first was a High-Quality Course designation; the second, a CALS 2020 Teaching Innovation Award. Each of the two awards was the result of high student evaluation scores and feedback. Lukas Hallman, a graduate student about to complete a master’s degree in horticulture, supported the award nomination.

Graduate student Lukas Hallman in a citrus grove where he performs research daily.

Graduate student Lukas Hallman in the citrus grove where he performs daily research.

“What I think is most outstanding about Dr. Rossi’s character is his ability to understand that everyone is an individual. My work begins at sunrise in a citrus research grove, and then I move into a greenhouse until noon,” said Hallman. “My coursework takes place in the afternoon and evenings, and on weekends I make my schedule, and Dr. Rossi approves it. I work hard, and I also do sports and other activities I enjoy. Dr. Rossi understands a formula to manage stress, maintain good mental health, and exercise will balance a student and increase productivity.”

A second characteristic of Rossi’s portfolio that contributed to his success is his ability to mentor undergraduate and graduate students’ research. Cave said Rossi matches a students’ passion for industry research needs. Rossi also serves as a co-instructor for a course, Linking Root Structure and Function, an intensive curriculum offered for several days in Orlando, Florida. The course brings together international graduate students who devote their study and career to plant root biology. Lecturers for the course are the world’s leading experts on the topic.

Rossi said he plans to add more advanced educational technology features to his courses in 2021, including a virtual laboratory tour. Rossi’s research includes work for a $15 million grant in collaboration with a U.S. Department of Agriculture molecular biologist. For more information about Rossi’s educational offerings and research, please visit the laboratory website: https://hos.ifas.ufl.edu/plantrootbiology/

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