i'm an agronomist

Aliana Stevenson

1. Where are you from?
I am from a small city in Connecticut named Rockville. It is north and east of Hartford, our capitol.

2. What first started your interest in agronomy?
Plants have always been around me in some form or another, so my interest began with a culmination of things, rather than in one moment. My grandmother was a florist and passed her love of flowers to my mom who passed it to me. My family also owns a bunch of forest land up in Vermont that we would go camping and exploring on, and it was my favorite place to go for most of my life. Then when I was in 10th grade my family built a huge garden in our back yard that we planted with all kinds of vegetables. We then expanded it to include a strawberry patch, a blueberry patch, an orchard with peaches, plums, and cherries, and finally a small arbor of grape vines next to our tool shed. I fell in love with the garden and fruit orchards and so it came as no surprise to anyone when I picked Agronomy!

3. What are some of the main issues for society that you are concerned about?
The main issue that I care a lot about is bringing agriculture to urban areas, and producing local and fresh foods. I think big agriculture has its place in the world, but I would love to see a movement towards using city space to grow fresh vegetables. I especially am interested in bringing fresh food to parts of cities where people don’t have access to anything beyond convenient stores.

I also care a lot about preserving biodiversity, both in plants and in animals. We’ve already seen how utilizing genes from genetically similar cousins of crops can be hugely beneficial to the industry, but I think we haven’t experienced the full consequences of losing a lot of biodiversity. For now people don’t care if we lose a few unusual biomes or a lot of insect species, but I think in the long run that apathy will come back to haunt us.

4. Do you have any advice for those thinking about continuing their education to address the issues you’ve mentioned?
Just studying Agronomy won’t cover those two topics. Agronomy doesn’t have a greenhouse or urban agriculture focus, so taking some extra classes in Horticulture would be useful if you are curious about those. Agronomy also has a lot of sustainability focused classes, but much of them are focused on soil and specific wildlife habitat conservation. In addition to taking those classes, you should also focus on the animals themselves and specific crops. To do that you will have to expand into Horticulture, Entomology, Global Resource Systems, and Biology.

5. Why did you choose Iowa State University?
I chose Iowa State after visiting the University of Florida, Purdue University, and the University of Illinois. Iowa State had the most beautiful campus by far, and I felt like I belonged here. My high school, which I loved very much, had all the buildings arranged in a circle to promote “togetherness” and make the place feel more like a home. When I came to Iowa State and saw how central campus was a big circle just the same as my high school I immediately felt at home. But what really did it for me was touring Agronomy hall and talking to many of the professors and faculty. They were so knowledgeable and easy-going and after talking to them all I realized that Agronomy meant something different to all of them, yet it also kept them together and working towards a common purpose.

6. What was your first year here like?
I’m not going to lie, my first semester was a little rough. I was farther away from home than I’d ever been, and I really missed my family. I also struggled to meet people who meshed with my weird, energetic, but shy personality. I made sure to take it easy on classes until I felt comfortable here, and that made it easier to make the transition without worrying about damaging my GPA. By November though, I had a solid friend group, a solid grasp on my classes, and felt less like an outsider. I picked up skiing at Seven Oaks with my friends, went to a lot of the free events on campus every week, and got really into the Walking Dead videogames. I made sure to Skype my family each week and went home for breaks. After first semester I started to feel like Iowa State was my second home, and from there it was all uphill!

7. What has been your favorite class?
I’ve had a lot of great classes, but if I had to pick one it would be Agronomy 331. It’s the class you take if you want to be part of the Crops Team. Dr. Christian was my professor for that class along with a lot of great TA’s. The class is structured so that each week you essentially have a mock run of a real competition. So you take all four quizzes that you would take in a competition against other schools. Although the class required ridiculous amounts of studying outside of class (10 hours a week minimum), it felt so great to see me weekly progress as I got better and better grades on the quizzes. However, I would not suggest taking this class if you are a freshman. It requires you to know everything you might learn after four years of studying Agronomy. At least wait until you take Agronomy 114, Biology 211/212 and Agronomy 154.

8. What has been your favorite experience in the agronomy program?

8. You have a faculty adviser, how has your expereience been with her?
I love my advisor, Dr. Singh! Even though he’s new to advising, he genuinely cares about what classes I take and always makes sure I’m not biting off more than I can chew.

He always asks about my health and whether I’m eating and sleeping enough, which is really nice of him. I meet with him at least once a semester, and sometimes more if I’m thinking about doing something unusual, like research or a double major. So even though I occasionally have to research forms and rules on my own, I wouldn’t even think about switching advisors.

9. Have you been involved with a research project?
During my second semester here I did some research with Dr. John Nason on fig wasps associated with ficus petiolaris. It was three hours a week, and I made time in my schedule to come in for the full three hours on Friday. Although I didn’t have my own project, I got to learn and participate in every part of the research, even helping edit the graduate students’ thesis.

10. Has the research project benefited your learning experience?
In a way. The things that I learned in the research were very specific to that thesis, so I don’t think the information really benefited me. But the experience of collaborating with people of all different majors and at all different stages in their education was really valuable.

11. Do you see the research work you are doing as a benefit to society?
The research being conducted in Dr. Nason’s lab all revolves around co-evolutionary interactions between species. I personally think understanding the way every species interacts with each other, and how those interactions evolved and were shaped over time is important. Assuming knowledge is a benefit to society, yes what I was involved in is a benefit.

12. Any advice for those considering a major in agronomy?
Don’t get too caught up in other people’s definitions of Agronomy and what other people are doing with their education. Take the classes that interest you and work towards the career you want, not the one you think you should have.

13. Ten years from now, what do you want to be doing?
Ten years from now I want to have a salary of 80,000 or more, married, and thinking about starting a family. I’m using my time here at Iowa State to explore all the job possibilities the world has to offer me. There are so many people on campus with so many different connections that I’m loathe to box myself in now when I have more doors open to me than I will at any other stage of my life. So, I expect I won’t have a solid answer to this question until senior year!
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