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Our 2014 Scholarship Winners

James Keach

James is currently finishing his fourth year of his PhD study in Plant Breeding at Cornell University, with minors in Horticulture and International Agriculture. His research focuses on the genus Impatiens. He is primarily looking for sources of resistance to downy mildew, and is attempting to get a grasp on the diversity the genus has to offer. This has involved lots of coordinating with private collectors, micro propagation, embryo rescue and some chemical assays. His goal is to provide gardeners with more options than the 2 or 3 commonly available species.

According to his Professor and Director Mark Bridgen, “James’ research project, Identifying, Characterizing, and Integrating Resistance from Wild Relatives Against the threat of Downy Mildew in Impatiens walleriana, is one of timely and utmost importance. The issue that he is studying has recently had tremendous economic impact on the American agriculture industry. Two years ago, New York had approximately $10.4 million in sales of impatiens plants—one of the highest sales numbers in the United States. The downy mildew problem with impatiens threatens all of these sales. Not only is his subject area an important economic aspect for the greenhouse industry, but it is also an important consideration for homeowners.

James shared with Proven Winners his goals, and where he envisions his impact on the industry will be. “I have been interested in plants for as long as I can remember. My parents often remind me of when I was eight years old and attempted to cross-pollinate the paulownia tree in our front yard with the dandelions growing around it.” James feels that “one of the most beautiful, but also challenging things about horticulture, is there is so much potential within each aspect of the field. I see my role in cataloging and integrating genetic diversity to make the jobs of my peers easier and to explore the limits of what the plants can produce.”

Thank you James. We are proud to award you the 2014 Proven Winners Innovations in Plant Breeding Scholarship, and wish you the best in your educational pursuit.


Katie Nickolaus

Katie is currently a student at Michigan State University, with plans to graduate in the fall of 2014 with a B.S. in Horticulture. She has focused her studies at Michigan State to include a wide variety of classes within Horticulture with a degree specialization in landscape design, build, and maintenance.

She has been an active member of the Michigan State University Horticulture Club for four years, holding the office of Secretary for one of those years and the office of Vice President for another.  This included the responsibility of holding a seat on the executive board of the Michigan Horticultural Education Foundation for two years. She competed at PLANET Student Career Days for three years in multiple events and has attended many Green Industry events. This summer Katie was an AmericanHort Scholar and attended Cultivate ’14 in Columbus, Ohio.

This past summer Katie completed a second internship at Ball Horticulture as a marketing intern and last year interned with C. Raker and Sons. In both marketing internships she used her computer skills to help convey marketing information electronically. Katie shared with Proven Winners what she sees as her direction. “My aspiring accomplishments aim to change the face of gardening. I see this as a classic marketing challenge: create, communicate, and deliver value to the consumer. As I finish up my undergraduate education and pursue a career within horticulture I know I will be looking for a path towards horticultural marketing. This idea started as a challenge and has developed into a passionate starting career goal.”                                                                                                     

Thank you Katie. We are proud to award you the 2014 Proven Winners Innovations in Horticultural Marketing Scholarship, and wish you the best in your educational pursuit.


John Bryan Webber

John is currently completing his junior year at the University of Missouri in Columbia with a degree in Plant Science with an emphasis area in Horticultural Sciences. His targeted date for graduation is May, 2016. Long term, John’s goal is to create unique ornamental varieties of plants that will be easier to propagate and more durable within a landscape. During his time at the University of Missouri he has enjoyed seeing first-hand how plants can be manipulated through horticulture.

This past summer John worked full-time at the University of Missouri’s Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) under Dr. Mark Coggeshall, a professor and tree improvement specialist. HARC’s  goal is to improve several species in the genus Juglans for timber and nut production, to phenotype the leaf morphology of Quercus rubra for further application through an NSF sponsored project, to create improved varieties of other woody plant species for ornamental value, and to explore many other projects for plant improvement. Through Dr. Coggeshall’s work, John is learning how observations can be made in order to manipulate plants through cultivation and genetics. John plans to use these observations as the building blocks in creating unique varieties of plants, as well as plants that are easier to propagate and better suited for a landscape. These better-suited plants would ensure that landscapes look better for longer period of time than current varieties, and would require less maintenance to do so.

John shared with us “In my free time I experiment with propagating various trees and shrubs in containers on my porch. After creating my own small-scale misting propagation bench, I have successfully cultivated more than 20 different species from seeds and softwood cuttings. I have found that growing plants provides me fulfillment unlike anything else I have done.”

Thank you John. We are proud to award you the 2014 Proven Winners Grower Excellence Scholarship, and wish you the best in your educational pursuit.




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