Enriched biodiversity provides resilience to an ecosystem; workplace diversity promotes innovations and achievements. ASPB has committed to enhance inclusiveness and build a diverse community. ASPB has provided the Recognition Travel Awards (RTA) for students, postdocs, and faculty to attend the Plant Biology annual meeting. Members of groups underrepresented in the US scientific workforce or people who are directly supporting the education and professional development of students are encouraged to apply. Since 2005, over 150 people have received the RTA. We interviewed some recent award recipients to share their science journey and meeting experience.
Beverly J. Agtuca (Conviron Scholar Teaching Assistant & Intern Coordinator, American Society of Plant Biologists; Postdoctoral Research Associate, Brookhaven National Laboratory with Dr. Tim Paape)
Home gardening sowed the seeds to Beverly’s science career. Her parents were farmers growing up in the Philippines, so when they came to the United States, they always kept a garden at home. One time she found that a side of the garden didn’t grow as well as the others. When her parents told her the reason could be a lack of fertilizer, she decided to test the hypothesis: “I asked my mom if we could grow some plants with and without fertilizers and see what happens. After looking at the results, I was amazed ever since, and this made me want to get into plant science research.” Another encounter that strengthened her interest in plant science happened when she visited her grandparents in the Philippines. She and her siblings were asked to harvest some rice for their meals. “I saw other children in the fields doing the same in the early morning. I thought to myself this was a tough job and that was when I wanted to become a plant scientist to research ways to increase plant growth,” recounted Beverly.
Beverly’s interest in science motivated her to join a research program at the Sachem East High School where she conducted research with Dr. Michael Vaccariello. They tested how diverse grasses and plants prevented soil erosion on the hill near the high school football field and studied plant-microbe interactions in phytoremediation. Dr. Vaccariello also introduced her to the summer research programs at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) where she spent every high-school summer learning about science and research. The summer research programs fertilized her research career: “The programs in my freshman and sophomore years used mini experiments, campus tours, and off-site field trips to demonstrate different topics of science, like Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Earth Science. It was really fun and made me want to go back every year!” Subsequent years, she attended the upper-level research program, which led to her research of using various imaging techniques to study nitrogen-fixing bacteria in legumes and non-legumes during her undergraduate at State University of New York College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, summer internships at BNL, and eventually her PhD at University of Missouri-Columbia. Her advisors Drs. Lee Newman, Richard Ferrieri, and Gary Stacey played crucial roles in her research journey.
In 2017, Beverly received the RTA to attend the Plant Biology meeting at Honolulu, Hawaii: “I love the meeting because I was able to network, meet new people, and learn new techniques, information, and research from attending the workshops, talks, and poster sessions.” During the meeting, she learned about various ASPB programs. She later applied and was accepted into the Conviron Scholars Program: “The program helped me to step out of my comfort zone! I used to be afraid of networking. Now, I like to network and love doing outreach projects!! It also helped me to align and find my career goals. The program was worth it and I recommend for others to apply for the next class of the program.” Beverly encourages future RTA recipients and Plant Biology meeting attendees: “Don’t be afraid to network and meet new people! It is scary at first, but once you push past your comfort zones, you will get used to it.”