As the demand for food increases and climate change and ecosystem degradation impose new challenges, the field of horticulture will be an important future career track to help ensure the world’s food security. University of the Ozarks senior Erika Henderson is ready to play her part in helping take on these issues.
The environmental studies major from Highland Village, Texas, will graduate from Ozarks during the 2018 Fall Commencement on Dec. 15. She will then begin working on a master’s degree in applied horticulture at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville,
“Sustainable agriculture and ecology are passions for me because I love being surrounded by the environment and helping preserve and sustain the environment in any way possible,” Henderson said. “My goals are to pursue a career that will help benefit the agriculture world. Plus, I just love to get my hands dirty.”
Henderson has been preparing for a career in horticulture for the past several years by getting her “hands dirty” working in a summer internship at the University of Arkansas Fruit Research Center, located north of Clarksville. Specifically, she has been working with researchers on a rotating cross-arm (RCA) trellis system project with blackberries.
“We were studying the beneficial effects the RCA has on blackberry plants,” Henderson said. “I had different tasks to do every day, and there were certain days I stayed until 7 or 8 p.m. in the lab inputting data. It mostly involved identifying diseases, looking for invasive species like insect larva, weighing, taking measurements and rating the general characteristics of each blackberry harvested. I did informational videos and posted a couple times a week on the station’s Facebook page to inform the public about our project, discuss environmental conditions and diseases, insects, what we do in the lab and any other interesting facts about the RCA. Although it was a lot of hard work in the lab and outside in the summer heat, I enjoyed doing that work and I definitely feel more prepared for what I’ll be doing as a graduate student.”
It was the internship at the fruit research station that opened the door for Henderson getting accepted into the U of A master’s degree program and securing an assistantship position with Dr. Amanda McWhirt, an extension specialist in horticulture cropping systems and assistant professor at U of A.
“I’ve been working with Dr. McWhirt for the past two years as a part of my internship at the fruit station and she asked me in August if I wanted to be her graduate student for the next two years,” Henderson said. “I realized this was an open door to doing something that I love and I couldn’t let this opportunity go. I had to quickly take the GRE so I could apply for the Spring 2019 Semester. It was very stressful preparing for the GRE and it was a very rough four weeks leading up to the test. I was very relieved and happy when I got accepted into the program. The experience I had working at the fruit research center definitely helped me get in. I have the option in graduate school of continuing to work on the same project, which is exciting.”
Henderson credited her advisor Dr. Kim Van Scoy, professor of environmental studies and sustainable agriculture, for putting her on the track for success.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’d be where I am now if it wasn’t for Dr. Van Scoy,” Henderson said. “She was the one that suggested the internship for me at the fruit research station. She knew Dr. McWhirt and that helped me gain an understanding of what graduate school would be like. I can’t thank Dr. Van Scoy enough for supporting and helping me get this amazing opportunity for my future.”
“I loved each class I took for my environmental studies major because it only increased my love for the environment and urged me to continue learning more outside of the classroom.”