Students Under the Limelight

Zoë Prince Student Assistant, Horticulture Office

Zoë Prince - Undergraduate Student

Zoë Prince is an Undergraduate student in her senior year at UGA. She is a Student Assistant in the Horticulture Department where she works two different jobs. In one position she supports a PhD graduate research project and in the other position she supports the Horticulture Department's Office on the Athens campus. Zoë is also the President of the Horticulture Club.

1. Where are you from?

I am from Cairo, Georgia. It is located in south Georgia near the Georgia/Florida line.

2. What got you interested in Horticulture?

I got interested in horticulture during the pandemic. While we were stuck at home, my dad and I decided to build a few raised beds for my mom. I absolutely loved everything about it! This was a time that I wasn't sure what I wanted to major in or what I wanted to do with my life, so I figured I would try out horticulture, and the rest is history. The friends and connections I have made not only in my classes but also in my time with the Horticulture Club have been truly priceless.

3. What is/are your major(s)?  Do you have any minor(s)?

My major is Horticulture and I am minoring in Spanish.

4. What has been your favorite horticulture class?

I have loved pretty much all of my horticulture classes so far, so it's definitely hard to pick a favorite. My top three I think are Plant Propagation, Intro to Fruit Crops, and Postharvest Physiology.

5. What are your plans or desires for after graduation?

Right now, I'm open to opportunities in all areas of horticulture/the green industry. I have experience in CEA and large-scale nursery production, but I would love to try my hand at floriculture or smaller scale production, as well!

Kaitlin Swiantek - M.S. Graduate Research Assistant

Kaitlin Swiantek is pursuing her master's degree in Horticulture under the advisement of Dr. John Ruter.

1. Where are you from?

I am from Orlando, FL, and earned my B.S. in Plant Science from the University of Florida. While studying at UF, I worked with Dr. Dave Clark on his coleus and basil breeding projects. After I graduated, I wanted to explore other breeding programs. I found UGA, which has a fantastic Horticulture program, and met Dr. John Ruter, who breeds a variety of ornamental plants.

2. What is your research focus?

My research focuses on breeding Pycnanthemum (a pollinator plant) for landscape used to encourage the public to participate in pollinator conservation.

3. What got you interested in Horticulture?

My interest in horticulture came from a class I took during undergrad. I was horrible with plants, so I decided to learn more about growing them. The class gave out plants each week, which helped me become more confident in my horticultural skills. What grabbed my attention, though, was the plant breeding lecture. I loved how ornamental plant breeding was a mixture of art and science, and I changed my major later that week.

4. What is your favorite part of what you do?

I love being outside with all the flowers, surrounded by beautiful plants and brilliant colors. I also love discovering things no one has studied before. It's exciting to be involved in research that [provides] new information.

5. What are your plans or desires for after graduation?

I plan to work in the industry as a plant product developer or plant breeder.

Jamal Mohammed - Ph.D. Graduate Research Assistant

Jamal Mohammed is pursuing his doctorate in Horticulture under the advisement of Dr. Rachel Itle.

1. Where are you from? 

I am originally from Ghana.

2. What does your research focus on?

My PhD research focuses on the characterization and breeding of blueberry flavor.

3. What got you interested in Horticulture?

I have always felt that plants are very important when it comes to human life. I like the fact that fruits and vegetables give us good sources of vitamins. Horticultural crops are part of our everyday life, and therefore having the privilege to share my research to solve pertinent issues about horticultural crops to feed the world feels rewarding. I have always wanted to be part of the problem solving and decision-making team. Therefore, having graduate studies in this field gives me the necessary training and tools that I might need to solve problems related to my field of study.

4. What is your favorite part of what you do? 

[I am] working with plants and realizing I am contributing to solving issues whether food insecurity or nutritional benefit is really exciting. Again, I can eat my research…After the data is collected, of course. Everyone needs to eat so research on the production of food crops is very relatable not just to growers but also to consumers. I like how applied my area of focus is. There is a nice balance between field, lab, and office type work that makes my daily work variable and always interesting.

5. What are your plans or desires for after graduation?

My goal after grad school is to become a plant breeder and being able to inspire the next generation of horticulturists and plant breeders. I am open to opportunities in either the industry or in the academia where I will be able to conduct research and mentor students.