With an eye toward the future, the University of Florida celebrated a historic milestone with the groundbreaking of a graduate student dormitory named after a prominent Black scientist.
In the heart of Miami-Dade County’s Homestead, elected officials, community leaders, and donors joined administrators, scientists and graduate students of UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) to honor Pauline O. Lawrence and to commemorate the groundbreaking of the Pauline O. Lawrence Student Residence. The facility, located on the TREC campus, begins construction this year and will stand as the first UF building named after a Black person.
“Dr. Lawrence was a groundbreaker in many ways and on so many levels, as a student and as a professor of entomology at the University of Florida, she has given in so many ways,” said J. Scott Angle, UF Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of UF/IFAS.
Lawrence was the first and only Black female student in entomology in the 1970s. She was the first female student to live and study on the UF/IFAS TREC campus. She earned her doctorate in 1975 and in 1976 became an assistant professor in the UF zoology department, achieved the rank of full professor in 1989 and moved to the UF/IFAS entomology and nematology department in 1994. Lawrence would go on to make discoveries in beneficial insect physiology and development, followed by numerous trailblazing discoveries and accomplishments.
As both a researcher and teacher, Lawrence was a founding member of UF’s Minority Mentor Program, now called the University Multicultural Mentor Program, and was committed to recruiting and mentoring minority undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral associates.
She is currently professor emerita in physiology and biochemistry in UF’s department of entomology and nematology after fulfilling her dream of studying the fruit fly and making major contributions to the field.
“Indeed, the naming of this residence not only recognizes the history of the University of Florida but marks the beginning of the making of a brand-new history,” said Lawrence at the ceremony. “Today is a day of reflection and a day of celebration. I humbly accept this honor. I do so in the memory of the many who came long before me and on whose shoulders I stand.”
When Lawrence first learned of the need for graduate student housing at TREC, she didn’t hesitate to reach out to Edward ‘Gilly’ Evans, TREC’s center director. She thought back to her own experiences as a graduate student. His vision of a new dormitory on the campus compelled her to help transform the vision into a reality.
“Graduate students are an essential part of what we do at research and education centers,” explained Evans at the ceremony. “At TREC, they play a critical role in our research supporting agriculture and natural resources in South Florida, all while receiving mentorship and professional development from our faculty.”
The enriching experience and supportive environment fostered by her mentor, Richard Baranowski, and other faculty and staff at TREC 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, added Evans.
To that end, and in recognition of her outstanding experience as the first resident female entomology graduate student on the TREC campus, Lawrence and her husband, Carlton Davis, a distinguished professor emeritus in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department, made a significant donation to the 2019 TREC Student Housing Campaign.
“That building would signify to me that anything is possible with effort and a good heart,” said Lawrence. “What I envision and what I think the students will enjoy is the ability to just take time to refresh and renew in a safe environment and it will show that a little girl from a little island came to this country and was given the opportunity.”
Following the ceremony, Lawrence and Davis joined more than 320 attendees for One Night in the Tropics, the annual gala-style fundraiser. The event took place amid the campus’ tropical fruit-filled orchards and ornamental plants, and featured live music and entertainment, silent auctions, and local food and beverages.
Evans noted that many have contributed to the fund to build the dorms through One Night in the Tropics.
“Our graduate students often have a challenging time finding housing, especially now that Miami-Dade has been cited as the most expensive housing market in the U.S. 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.
Here is a video that encapsulates the groundbreaking event and Lawrence’s accomplishments and contributions.
The sponsors for this year’s One Night in the Tropics event include Railroad Nursery, Allen Schneider, Mix’d Greens Environmental, Coconut Palm Growers Corporation, Somerset Academy, Arazoza Brothers Corp., Florida Farm Bureau, Costa Farms, John Deer Everglades, GSI, Commissioner Danielle Cogen Higgins, Wells Fargo, Brooks Tropicals, Motes Orchids, Redland View, Lovett Irrigation, Southstate, MPL plus and Homestead Hospital Baptist Health South Florida, Jorge Abreu, Timothy Garman, Christine Waddill, Sal Finocharrio, Mary Schneider, Pepsi, Ketel One Botanical, Schnebly Redland’s Winery, The Buster & Demot Family Fishing Tournament, Knaus Berry Farm, Total Wine & More, and Valenti.
By Lourdes Mederos, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.