The Southeast Produce Council is on a mission to fund scholarships at all land-grant universities in the Southeast region of the U.S. Having already provided for students in Georgia and Florida, the STARS scholarship is now helping agriculture students at LSU.
The scholarship program began in 2012 as a way to recruit top students for membership on the council, as well as to introduce them to the many job opportunities that the produce industry offers. Two $2,500 scholarships are awarded on an annual basis to each university supported by the effort.
“The attention everyone gave their [STARS students’] development was inspiring and caring,” said Don Labonte, a professor in the School of Plant, Environmental & Soil Sciences. “What a wonderful opportunity for these students. I know the process of getting the scholarship established was complicated, but it was worth it.”
In addition to receiving a monetary award, scholarship recipients are invited to attend the council’s Southern Exposure Conference and Exposition, where they can meet more than 200 produce industry growers and shippers, as well as the nation’s leading retailers and food service distributors.
“This scholarship would offer an incredible opportunity to meet and network with producers from across the southeast,” said recipient Kiersten Pazdera, who begins graduate work in horticulture this fall. “I would love to learn about the production process from those who have firsthand experience in the industry.”
Pazdera joins Myles Thibodeaux as the second set of students at LSU to receive the award. Thibodeaux, a second-year graduate student who plans to work in wetland restoration and management, shared that the scholarship will enable him to purchase a new laptop for school.
“Loss of wetlands is a huge concern for all Louisianians,” Thibodeaux said. “I would like to use my education to better serve the efforts to preserve our coast.” The Baton Rouge native said he chose LSU for its culture, proximity to family, climate and professors in the College of Agriculture.
“I’ve benefitted a lot from the open-door attitudes of our top scientists, “ he continued. “A lot of wetland research happens here, and we have some well-published scientists. It’s really cool to be able to talk to them about their research.”
Pazdera, too, was drawn to LSU because it is close to her family, who lives in Prairieville. She shared, “I decided to pursue my master’s degree here because the professors are truly invested in their students. They focus on strengthening our skills and knowledge in many different horticultural areas while allowing us to pursue our interests within the field.”
After her master’s coursework, Pazdera plans to continue her studies, with a focus on researching irrigation systems used in fruit production. “Knowing how to grow food and care for plants is an incredibly useful skill,” she said. “I think that understanding the physiology of plants, as well as the process of growing food from seed to edible product, leads to a much deeper appreciation of our food, our growers and our planet.”
Published in Cornerstone Summer and Fall 2014.