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Maddy Olberg '14

Maddy Olberg (GPN magazine photo)


Niskayuna, N.Y.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I was in the horticulture club and really interested in plant biology in high school. I also played polo. Cornell has great plant science and varsity polo programs. So the choice was pretty easy.

Have you taken any particularly inspiring courses?

For my first two years, after every plant science course I took I said “This is what I want to do my whole life!” I was mostly excited about doing basic research.

Then during my junior year, I took two courses taught by Bill Miller: Annual and Perennial Plant Identification and Use (HORT 3000) and Production and Marketing of Greenhouse Crops (HORT 3100) that put me on the track to applied horticulture. We took field trips to public gardens and production greenhouse facilities and I realized that I wanted to be part of the horticulture industry.

If I get what I want in this world, it will be a combination of research and horticulture.

How have internships and independent research contributed to your Cornell experience?

After my junior year, I was selected as one of 10 students from around the world to be an intern for Ball Horticultural Company outside Chicago. I worked in their seed lab researching the effects of lighting types on germination and seedling morphology.

I also worked for two years in Taryn Bauerle’s woody root physiology lab on a project looking at root and stem hydraulic conductivity in oaks to see if there’s any relation between that and ease of transplanting. We’ve submitted a journal article that we’re hoping will be published soon.

I’ve also done greenhouse plant growth regulator research with Bill Miller. And after my sophomore year, I did biodiversity research in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. So I’ve really had a broad range of research experience.

Have you received any awards for your work?

Maddy at work during her Ball internship. (GPN Magazine photo.)
Maddy at work during her Ball internship. (GPN Magazine photo.)

I was named the 2014 GPN/Nexus Intern of the Year from my internship with Ball and featured in the January 2014 edition of GPN Magazine. I’m a member of the horticulture honor society Pi Alpha Xi, was named Outstanding Undergraduate Student in Horticulture American Society for Horticultural Science in 2012, and named a 2014 Merrill Presidential Scholar, among others.

How has the major prepared you for your future?

It’s really helped me see how basic research can be applied to practical solutions in horticulture, which is what I want to do with my life.

In addition to varsity polo, have you had time for any other extracurricular activities?

I’m a CALS Ambassador, acting as a liaison between the college and prospective students. And I served as a teaching assistant for Collaboration, Leadership, and Career Skills in the Plant Sciences (HORT 1110), a course developed specifically for first-year majors to help them develop skills they’ll need to succeed at Cornell and out in the world.

I’m also president of Hortus Forum, the undergraduate student club. It’s great because you are around other people who love plants and you get a lot of hands-on experience growing plants, selling them and spreading the word about how valuable plants are. And we use the money we raise to take fun field trips.

What are your plans after graduation?

I’m going for my Master’s Degree at Purdue University. I’ll be doing research on bench-top root zone heating for greenhouses. It’s a more sustainable, energy-saving practice because you put the heat right where the plants need it instead of heating all the air.

Any advice for prospective students?

Come to Cornell and get involved. Get to know the faculty. They’re very friendly and helpful, especially when it comes to getting internships and research opportunities.

And plan your classes. There are so many plant science courses that you can’t take them all. But you should expose yourself to all aspects of plant sciences before you decide what you want to concentrate on.