On November 5, in the heart of Homestead, the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) will commemorate a milestone with a ceremonial groundbreaking of the first University of Florida building named after a Black scientist.
The Pauline O. Lawrence Student Residence will serve as a new graduate student dormitory on the campus, at 18905 SW 280 St. The event comes when graduate housing inventory among universities is critically low and rental prices are at an all-time high.
The event will start at 4:30 p.m. with elected officials, University of Florida administrators including UF President Kent Fuchs and UF Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of UF/IFAS Scott Angle, growers, stakeholders, TREC faculty and staff joining current graduate students and Lawrence to mark the occasion.
The event precedes the 8th Annual One Night in the Tropics, from 6 p.m. to midnight, also at the TREC campus, amid tropical fruit-filled orchards and ornamental plants that grace the center’s grounds. This fundraising event blends the local flavors of food, drink, live music, a live auction and raffle to support the research center’s Graduate Dormitory Campaign.
As TREC’s premier fundraiser, the dormitory campaign was launched in 2019 with a goal of $600,000 by 2022.
Graduate students do more than study at UF/IFAS TREC. Like many institutions of higher learning, they expand and develop personally and professionally while working with faculty inquiries. They also collaborate with fellow students in different disciplines to ensure that their research is academically sound.
They also live in South Florida, said Edward “Gilly” Evans, a longtime agricultural economist at UF/IFAS and director at UF/IFAS TREC.
TREC’s rich history of research and Extension outreach since its inception in 1929 has consistently focused on an extensive list of commodities — from avocadoes to hemp — that make South Florida a tropical paradise. Its mission has grown to finding solutions to environmental and agricultural challenges that plague our communities today, from sea-level rise to water quality and natural resource conservation.
At the core of its history are the scientists and graduate students building partnerships with Florida farmers who grow tropical and subtropical fruit, traditional and tropical vegetables and tropical, ornamental and agronomic crops. Together faculty and farmers have built a rich history and a world-class reputation for its focused research and Extension programs to protect the stability of a long list of Florida commodities and natural resources.
Lawrence was one of those graduate students who has generously donated to the cause.
As a graduate student at UF in the 1960s and 1970s, Lawrence was the first Black female student in entomology and the first female student to live and study on the UF/IFAS TREC campus. She and her husband Carlton Davis, distinguished professor emeritus in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department, have strongly supported the campaign to build the dorm, but she never asked or expected to see her name on it.
Lawrence was the first female UF Entomology graduate student to live on the TREC campus. The enriching experience and supportive environment fostered by her mentor, professor Richard Baranowski, an international expert on tephritid fruit flies at TREC. She conducted
her field research at TREC under professor Baranowski’s guidance and completed the remainder of her degree work in Gainesville on the UF main campus and at the US Department of Agriculture Laboratory. Baranowski, other TREC faculty and staff reinforced her belief in supporting graduate students financially and physically while fostering a positive learning environment within a cross-disciplinary framework. Such integrative experiences are essential because graduate students have been, and continue to be, at the very core of advancing innovative approaches to solving diverse agricultural problems.
“Providing affordable, quality living space for our graduate students right on our campus will help us attract the best and brightest. We are extremely grateful to all those who have contributed to this effort and made it a reality,” Evans said, noting that many have contributed to the fund to build the dorms through the center’s annual event, One Night in the Tropics.
By Lourdes Mederos
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.