- Broadening Agriculture Science Education
Originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Meghan Frances Lenahan earned her Bachelor of Science in Energy and Environmental Policy from the University of Delaware in Spring 2016. During her time at the University of Delaware, she interned with a community organizer in an environmental justice neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware, focusing on many public health issues, such as brownfield remediation, flood mitigation, and mosquito control. Following her undergraduate thesis, “Mosquito control and possible solutions in Southbridge, Wilmington, Delaware,” Meghan received a small NSF Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Grant to survey residents on knowledge and perceptions of mosquitoes as a nuisance and health concern and control efforts by the State of Delaware. After graduation, she volunteered as a research assistant at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, working on various projects concerning integrated pest management in organic agriculture, such as the use of no-till and insectary strips for the control of banded cucumber beetles. In spring, 2017, Meghan joined the FIU Agroecology Program as a Graduate Research Assistant, pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Water, Environment, and Developmental Studies. The following year she was awarded the Seymour Goldweber Scholarship from the Dade County AGRI-Council for conducting research on problems directly relating to the agriculture of the Miami-Dade County area. Meghan also served as a research mentor for two undergraduate projects: “Seeding young minds: Comparing experiential learning and direct instruction teaching methods in elementary agriculture education” by Amanda Perez- Castro and Rena Stern and “Fruit yield and pollinator diversity effects of companion planting tomatoes with muscadine grapes” by Emily Morgan. Meghan is currently working on her thesis project, “Evaluating the extrafloral nectaries of Turnera ulmifolia for pest management in Phaseolus vulgaris,” under major advisor, Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran. Coming from a large family of teachers, Meghan is most interested in environmental education and community outreach. She is passionate about science policy and hopes to be involved with influencing policymakers in the future to make more science-based decisions.
Daphne K. Sugino Souffront
Daphne Sugino-Souffront was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Sugino-Souffront moved to mainland United States to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science with an emphasis in freshwater ecosystems at Loyola University of Chicago. After graduation, Sugino-Souffront relocated to Miami to continue her higher education at Florida International University (FIU). Under the guidance of Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayanchandran, Sugino-Souffront studied the influence of vermicompost on the chemical profile of tomato plants and its effect on defensive compounds. In December 2019 Sugino-Souffront was honored and recognized as a World’s Ahead Graduate during commencement. Sugino-Souffront will continue at FIU as a Ph.D. student.
Originally from Miami, Florida, Blaire Kleiman obtained her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of Central Florida in the Summer of 2017. Following this, she worked as a Biocorps Fire Effects Monitor in Everglades National Park, conducting post-burn assessments in the Pine Rocklands and across the park, endangered butterfly monitoring, and assisting various park scientists. Afterwards, she worked as a research assistant to an FIU PhD student in the Plant-Ecology lab, Andrea Salas Primoli, conducting research on plant-insect interactions of vegetable and fruit crops with a native insectary plant, Senna mexicanna. In the fall of 2019, she began her Master of Science in Environmental Studies under her major advisor Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran, and Dr. Suzanne Koptur and Dr. Cara Rockwell, and continues to collaborate in the Plant-Ecology lab. Her thesis research is on the weed-insect interactions in mango, Mangifera indica, farms in Homestead, FL. Her research interests are in agroecology, insects and native plants.
Brandon Rodriguez is a senior at FIU pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies with a focus in Agri-Science and a certificate in Agroecology. As a BASE scholar, Brandon is currently performing research identifying the relationship between the essential oil of mint plants, mycorrhizal fungi, and calcareous soil with high levels of unavailable phosphorus. This research is being done under the guidance of Graduate Research Assistant, Mary Tiedeman. After interning in the tropical fruit lab at the USDA ARS Subtropical Horticultural Research Station he started working part time as a biological science aid. In addition, he took on the role of garden manager at FIU’s Organic Garden.
- Multicultural Studies Program
Adrian Acuña is a Cuban American student pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Engineering and a certificate in agroecology. Acuña is a two-time NSA Scholar and is currently working at the USDA ARS Invasive Plant Research Laboratory based in Davie working under research entomologist, Ellen Lake. This past year Acuña concluded his research on growing cilantro in distinct hydroponic methods and presented his findings in the agroecology symposium. Acuña is working now on two distinct projects. One of the projects is aimed in finding the yield benefits in growing kale in a vertical garden system in comparison to kale grown in a raised garden bed of equal surface area. Acuña is also working with Turner Tech and fellow colleagues in order to begin a phytoremediation site in Amelia Earhart Park, a park that used to be a naval base. Acuña worked under the guidance of several FIU staff including: Daphne Sugino, David Riera, Eric Betancourt and Krishnaswamy Jayachandran, among many other people.
Kevin Lewin transferred to FIU from Miami Dade College in the fall of 2018 where he received an associate’s degree in Biology. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with a minor in Biology as well as a Certificate in Agroecology. Kevin joined the certificate program in order to gain a further understanding of agriculture and its role in environmental sustainability. Kevin is currently doing research under the mentorship of Dr. Amir Khoddamzadeh on Annona montana (mountain soursop) to identify the medicinal properties that previous research on Annona muricata (soursop) has shown. Kevin wants to use the knowledge he gains through the certificate program to study plants and other natural sources in the hopes to find medicinal drugs that can further treat illnesses.
Kiara Taibi-Briz is an undergraduate seeking a Bachelor in Environmental Studies with a focus in the agri-science and with the ambition of also receiving the Certificate of Agroecology. Kiara is currently conducting research for the Multicultural Scholarship Program under the mentorship of the graduate student, Jennifer Gil, and Dr.Kateel Shetty. She recently finished conducting research on the effects of zinc nano and bulk particles on certain types of algae growth with the guidance of both Jennifer Gil and Dr.Kateel Shetty. As a past high school intern for the FIU Agroecology Program, she grew a passion for different areas within agroecology and hopes to explore them throughout her time at the university. Kiara wishes to complete her Bachelor degree in Environmental Studies and hopefully, attend graduate school to eventually receive her Masters in the field as well.
Myles Covington is an undergraduate student in his junior year at the FIU honors college. He has now been a member of the Agroecology program for what will be three years at the conclusion of the spring 2020 semester and is still seeking his agroecology certificate. Through the agroecology program, Myles was able to intern with the USDA base in Charleston, South Carolina for plant pathology and increase his understanding on how one of his biggest passions (genetics) may apply within the agroecology field. Myles’ other passions include his love for orchids and teaching. He recently joined the FIU teach program with the hope to gain a teaching license once he graduates from FIU. He has gotten a taste of what it is to be a Florida Educator with his first semester of 8th Grade students last spring. His other goal is to publish more research on his work with Fairchild Garden’s Million Orchid Project and their combined efforts on the conservation of endangered orchids. For almost 5 years Myles has been working with the elusive Ghost Orchid and is trying to find ways to re-establish the population here in Florida. Myles credits a lot of his success and ability to achieve his research goals to what he pleasantly calls his “Fairchild and Agroecology families” and the strength and support of grants from the Higher Education Grants Program and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Tropical Botany scholarships that he is humbly awarded to support the cost of his research.
Natalie Salman is a second-generation Miami born Cuban-American studying for a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies with a minor in Biology and is also an Agroecology Certificate student. She has done multiple internships in the field of agricultural science and conservation. These internships include working with Zoo Miami’s Department of Research and Conservation creating a map and database to catalogue all the trees on property and interning the USDA ARS at Chapman Field to help record phenotypic data about tropical fruits for a publicly available database. As an MSP scholar her current research project is studying companion planting and the relationship between tomatoes and multiple varieties of marigolds.
- Graduate Teaching Assistants
Shagufta Gaffar is a PhD student in the Earth Systems Science track at FIU. She completed her Bachelor and Master of Science in Soil, Water and Environment at University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. As a Teaching Assistant for the Department of Earth and Environment she teaches lab classes focusing on Environmental studies and soil. She is currently working on a project assessing the utilization of biochar produced from plants including invasive species and agricultural residues under the mentorship of Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran. Her research interests include soil chemistry, soil microbiology, and environmental sustainability. When not working in the lab carrying out experiments Shagufta loves traveling and trying different cuisine.
Ganesh Khadka is a PhD student at Florida International University studying under major advisor Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran. He completed a Master of Science in General Microbiology at Tribhuvan University which focused on environmental molecular microbiology. Since starting at FIU, Ganesh has been teaching various lab classes as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for the Department of Earth & Environment. His current research focuses on endophytic microbiomes from medicinal plants, concentrating on their anti-microbial properties for various pathogenic microorganisms.
- National Needs Fellowship
J. Erich Dautel
Degree Program: MS in Environmental Studies; GIS Certificate
Thesis Topic: Developing Remote Sensing Techniques to Identify Flooding Stress Risk in Avocado Groves
Major Professor: Jayachandran
Bachelor's Degree: BS in Environmental Studies (2009); Agroecology Certificate (2009)
Ariel Freidenreich obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from FIU in the spring of 2014. She then continued her studies as a National Needs Fellow with the FIU Agroecology Program and completed her thesis: “Comparison of Synthetic Versus Organic Herbicides/Insecticides on Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi in Abelmoschus esculentes.” During this time, she also led the project: “Effects of Prescribed Burn on Pine Rockland Soil Health and Plant Communities within FIU’s Nature Preserve.” Ariel completed her Master of Science in Environmental Studies under the mentorship of Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran in the summer of 2016. She is currently a PhD student under the Earth System Science program in the Department of Earth and Environment at FIU and has chosen to continue working with Dr. Jay to develop a dissertation following the path of her Masters work in sustainable agricultural soil science.
Mary Tiedeman is a native Iowan, and received her Bachelor of Science in Agronomy and Environmental Science at Iowa State University. She completed her Master of Science degree at Iowa State University as well, specializing in Pedology, Sustainable Agriculture, and Environmental Science. The title of her thesis was "Pedogenesis of ant-colonized soils at Doolittle Prairie State Preserve, Iowa.” Mary is currently a PhD student under major advisor Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran. Her research interests include phosphorus dynamics and biochemical weathering as well as mineralization in rock-plowed calcareous soils of South Florida.
Jazmin Locke-Rodriguez is born and raised in Miami and completed her Bachelors in Environmental Studies at Mount Holyoke College as a Posse Foundation Scholar. Her experience at MHC stimulated her interest in the intersection between agriculture, environmental health & hunger. Upon graduation in 2014 she received a Resolution Project Fellowship to help create community gardens and urban farms in South Florida. In 2017 she entered as a PHD student in Agroecology program within the Department of Earth and Environment at FIU with Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran as her major adviser. Her dissertation focuses on identifying nutrient uptake capacities of various market crops for the purpose of cleaning excess nutrients from water systems. She is working to develop floating wetland designs that both clean polluted waters while also providing food security for resilient cities.
Jessica Dominguez obtained her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Florida International University in 2013. Soon after, she became a teacher at Academy for International Education Charter School where she taught middle school Math and science for 3 years, and during which time she earned her Professional Educator’s Certificate. In the summer of 2017, she began her Master of Science in Environmental Studies under professors Dr. Kateel Shetty, Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran and Dr. Mahadev Bhat. Jessica completed her Master’s degree in Fall of 2019 and began her PhD in Spring of 2020. Jessica’s research (for both Master’s and PhD) is focused on the citrus greening disease, which is a deadly bacterial disease that affects all species of citrus. Jessica hopes to find effective antimicrobial compounds derived from natural sources (plants and/or microorganisms) to provide novel and sustainable treatment options for this devastating disease.
Ellen Garcia graduated from FIU with a B.S. in Environmental Studies with a certificate in Agroecology in 2017. During her undergraduate career she worked on creating an ecological niche model of lentils in Ethiopia, researching the effect of nitrogen fertilizers on chickpea root and leaf morphology, remote sensing of the Everglades for the National Park Service SFCN station and collecting phenotypic data to study the mango genome at the USDA ARS SHRS. Upon graduating she completed a post-bachelor program at Michigan State University researching novel gene regulatory interactions in the phenolic pathway under the advisory of Dr. Andrea Doseff and Dr. Erich Grotewold. Ellen is currently enrolled in the M.S. in Environmental Studies program, where her thesis topic is focused on studying the mycorrhizal fungi uptake by endangered and native orchids and how this effects plant survival, with advisement from Dr. Amir Khoddamzadeh. Ellen’s fields of interests are molecular biology, conservation, and ecology.
Rigo is a second year Ph.D. student at Florida International University in the Earth Systems Science program. His current research focuses on the rainfall variability in Southeast United States under major advisor Dr. Robert Burgman. He received his B.S. in Meteorology in 2017 at Florida International University. He is involved with the Meteorology club at Florida International University, which has held multiple workshops to stimulate an interest of science in students at elementary schools.
Marcos Garcia was born in Três de Maio, Brazil and moved to the US in 2007. After graduating from Doral Academy Preparatory Highschool, Marcos began to pursue a Bachelor in Sustainability and the Environment with a certificate in Agroecology at FIU. He is an ICATCH scholar at the Agroecology program at FIU. His interests lie in sustainable farming technologies and the application of renewable energy resources to improve yields and reduce resource use in large-scale farms. As an ICATCH scholar, Marcos hopes to continue developing skills and research background needed to effectively apply sustainable farming practices in real world situations in order to improve food scarcity and environmental issues.
Barbara Herrera is a senior seeking a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies with a focus on Agri-Science as well as the Certificate of Agroecology at FIU. During 2018, Barbara interned at a local farm in the Redlands called Farmer Fred’s, under the supervision of Alfredo Coralles. In this internship she learned through hands-on experiences, the life of a full-time farmer as well as horticulture techniques and general livestock maintenance. In the summer of 2019, Barbara attended the Yerba Buena Internship located in Jamaica. Here, Barbara studied the compounds of local medicinal plants and researched their practical applications by native Caribbean people. The program also offered a beekeeping experience of which Barbara participated in during her internship. Although, her main focus and most of what she did essential oil distillation of these said medicinal plants and their applied uses on the human body. As an iCATCH scholar, Barbara worked on a research project involving the overlap of medicinal plants found in different ethnically inclined Botánicas around Miami, Florida. This research was under the mentorship of Research Assistant Professor, Dr. Cara Rockwell. Currently, Barbara is aiding in the research of the medicinal compounds of the soursop fruit, leaves and seeds located in Miami, Florida. This research is being done under the supervision of Dr. Amir A. Khoddamzadeh. Presently Barbara is employed with the Education Fund, managing food forests within elementary schools in Miami and teaching students about science and nutrition. Barbara is graduating in Spring of 2020 and plans to pursue a higher level of education focusing on ethnobotany and the chemical composition of medicinal plants.
Born and raised in the heart of the West Kendall, Miami, Kyle Dalie graduated from high school in June of 2019 to expand on his interests in cultivation methods for commercial agriculture. Currently, he is a freshman pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science at Florida International University, also conducting an extensive research project on the prospect of organic vertical farming. The experiment seeks to determine the effectiveness of an organic fertilizer solution, when compared to traditional chemical solution, while being implemented on a vertical hydroponics garden system. Ultimately, the goal of this project is to synthesize a stable organic nutrient solution for agricultural facilities.
Mayra Del Carmen Ona, Cuban-born American, started her higher education at Miami-Dade College. Awarded The Honors College Fellowship Award, she graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Mathematics. Since transferring to FIU in Fall 2018, she is a candidate for a double major in a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies: Agricultural Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies; Alongside two certificates in Agroecology Studies and Women and Gender Studies. As an Innovative Curriculum for Agriculture Training and Career for Hispanics (iCATCH) Scholar, under the supervision of Dr. Mahadev Bhat, Mayra is correlating food insecurity in Miami-Dade County. Mayra also works as a Program Assistant at the FIU's MMC Women's Center, where she assists in creating gender-equity related programming. As a Ronald E. McNair Undergraduate Research Scholar, Mayra works in collaboration with the Sustainable Urbanization Global Initiative (SUGI) projects conducting international, trans-disciplinary research on the Food-Water-Energy Nexus as a member of the inaugural cohort of the Global Sustainability Scholarship Program. She is still exploring potential applications and career paths in the Agroecology field.
Noel D. Frias is an undergraduate student at FIU currently seeking a bachelors in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. He is on the Pre-Medical track and has experience conducting hydroponic research, marine debris research, horticulture research, and historical research. He has work experience working in laboratory settings given his past position as a lab assistant in the FIU’s Earth and Environmental Department. Noel has taken part in various form of internships such as working with Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens and NASA in their Growing Beyond Earth project which entails plant research, supporting NASA scientists on optimizing crop growth in small growth chambers, for longer space travel and future space exploration, with the ultimate goal to publish the results in a science journal. His research focus during this internship was the effect of light spectra and fertilizer on plant growth and preparing plant samples for vitamin K testing. The results of this research were presented at the Florida State Horticulture Society in June 2018.
Niola Tabares is a sophomore at Florida International University (FIU). She is pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration: Marketing, a Certificate in Health and Fitness Marketing, and a Certificate in Agroecology. Niola volunteers at the Agroecology Garden and helps with the maintenance. She is also getting research experience in St. Simon’s Farm, where she is being mentored by Moses on planting, harvesting, and cleaning procedures in an organic farm. Additionally, she records tomato data for a grant St. Simon’s Farm received.
- START NOW
Originally from Miami, Jordan Prats is Graduate Research Assistant pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Studies under Dr. Jayachandran. During his undergraduate career he worked closely with the Agroecology department on various research projects and experiential learning opportunities. Other responsibilities included partially managing the FIU Organic Garden and facilitating student experiments and learning opportunities. Jordan’s undergrad research focused on mycorrhiza and its symbiotic relationship with plants and soil resources. Through his experience in undergraduate, he was able to move on to higher education and pursue research opportunities that aligned with his interests and future career aspirations. Alongside the Florida Department of Agriculture, Prats is researching industrial hemp cultivation in South Florida.
Ana Malagon is a senior at FIU seeking a bachelors degree in Civil Engineering, and pursuing a certificate in Agroecology. During the summer of 2018, she experienced two weeks of agricultural training in Costa Rica-- a trip funded by START NOW. Ever since, she is very interested in tropical ecology conservation. She is also an iCATCH scholar and is using her benefits to work with Dr Alan Franck on a project about tropical hardwood hammock conservation and awareness. In the future, she is interested in working with implementing sustainability as a civil engineer, and pursuing ecological conservation initiatives in the industry. At any given moment, she is most likely baking carrot cake, watering her plants, or studying.
Emily Morgan is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies, in the agriscience track. Previously interning with the agroecology program here at FIU, she has been interested in applying agricultural sustainability to her aspirations to becoming a large animal/food animal veterinarian in the future. Currently as a freshman she is helping some graduate students with their research in addition to working towards starting her own project involving the intercropping of muscadine grapes and tomatoes. As a recipient of the START NOW Scholarship, she hopes to be able to broaden her horizons with receiving as much research experience as possible in addition to exposure to integrated farming systems in the US and abroad.
Arquimides Perez-Leyva is a Computer Science student who is also pursuing an Economics minor and Certificate in Agroecology. After completing his AA in Computer Science in Miami-Dade College he transferred to Florida International University where he has been in the Agroecology program since Spring 2018. His interests lie in applications of computer science to agriculture to improve production and end food scarcity. In Fall 2018 he did research into resulting lettuce morphological differences being hydroponically grown when exposed to red or blue light. He has been the garden manager at the Organic Garden on the universities Modesto Madique Campus since Spring 2019.