Student Spotlight brings you the perspectives of horticulture students and insights into the future of the industry.

Photo courtesy of GABBY CASTANEDA

She’s a senior at Sam Houston State University studying plant and soil science now, but Gabby Castaneda has always shown an interest in the world of horticulture and how she could use her talents to support the industry.

“I really got a lot of passion towards (horticulture) in high school,” she says. She was a member of her local FFA chapter and worked a lot with the floriculture team. In fact, she credits her involvement in that program for leading her to study at Sam Houston State University. “We would visit Sam Houston for state and regional competitions,” she says. “So, I feel like that’s what brought me here.”

She will graduate in May of 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Plant and Soil studies, but her interests reach beyond her studies. Castaneda is involved with her school’s plant and soil science club, where members collaborate on research with professors. Recently, Castaneda was working on a research project focusing on fertilizers.

“I was doing an experiment on different types of grasses and types of fertilizers and how they both work together and impact the outcome of the grass,” she says. She credits her school for giving her the tools for the hands-on parts of this industry. “(The club) really helps me develop more training in when it comes to national competitions,” she says. She recently participated in a national competition that focused on pest management. She spent time with her professors going over lecture notes and looking into new areas of research that she didn’t learn in class to ensure she was ready.

“I definitely had the help from my professors to help me with that because it was just so much…there are so many different pests and diseases,” she says.

A recent biology course sparked an interest in the area of plant pathology. She says she is looking at furthering her education to get more specialized training in the area and be able to help those in the industry when she graduates. “I’m very passionate about working with these people and helping to help the crops that we eat every day,” Castaneda says.

She’s set her sights on some potential career options that will combine her knowledge and her passion for social good.

“I would love to be a consultant for these farmers and go out there and tell them, ‘Hey, this is what’s wrong with the crop’ and give them a solution to their problems,” she says. “There’s more to it than just our economic crops, too… like our landscape crops and even our lawns.”

As she enters the work force and continues her education, Castaneda sees many growth opportunities in the industry. “I feel like this industry is just growing so fast and we do need students who are focusing their time on helping out with the bigger picture,” she says. “I feel like it’s something that we all have to work around even if just getting involved outdoors and learning about these things, I feel like it will go a really long way.” L&L