Plants are Matthew Bond’s passion. And at Cornell, he has found plenty of opportunities to pursue his passion.
“I’ve always known since middle school and even younger that I wanted to work with plants,” said Matthew. “I think some of it came from my grandmother, who loved plants, and from my father, too, who didn’t have the chance to explore that part of himself when he was younger. He liked to take me to gardens when I was growing up and was eager to encourage me when he saw that we shared an interest in plants.”
Although he was accepted to Cornell as a freshman, Matthew decided to spend his first two years as an undergraduate at SUNY Potsdam, closer to his home in Ogdensburg, N.Y. As a Biology major there, he had the opportunity to pursue independent research related to plants and plant chemistry, which deepened his interest in the work and solidified his conviction that Cornell was where he belonged.
“Academically, I feel much more at home here. Cornell is what I’d always hoped it would be - a place filled with others who share my focus on plants and plant research.”
Pursuing the many opportunities available to conduct research on plants has been a central theme of Matthew’s Cornell experience. For example, during his final semester he conducted an independent research project in the lab of Dr. Manuel Aregullin, exploring the medicinal properties of several different varieties of orchids prominent in the ethnobotany of Native American and other indigenous cultures.
“In my research, I conducted biological assays to see how effective the chemicals in these plants are for treating diseases,” Matthew said. “I want to give validation to the indigenous use of these plants. I want to provide scientific evidence that, yes this chemical in this plant is good for your immune system, and this is how it works.”
Although Matthew’s main research focus has been in the lab, he’s taken advantage of several travel experiences that have deepened his appreciation for the connection between medicinal plants and the indigenous peoples that utilize them. As a student in HORT 4940: Special Topics in Horticulture, he had the chance to travel to Easter Island, where he conducted an ethnobotanical survey, interviewing members of the Rapa Nui community to learn more about the prevalence and diversity of the traditional plants they use. As part of the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) Program, he spent a summer in the Dominican Republic working with local botanists and healers to collect plants with medicinal properties and perform tests to isolate the chemical compounds that underlie them. And as a conservation intern working with the Tropical Forestry Initiative, he spent part of the summer of 2012 in the Los Arboles Preserve of Costa Rica, working with the local community on reforestation projects, nursery work, erosion control and trail maintenance. Matthew credits this experience with helping him develop an appreciation of the importance of incorporating a sense of community in his research.
“People have gotten in trouble before for taking indigenous knowledge and not giving anything back to the community, or just not addressing the needs of the community,” Matthew said. “I think it’s important that if you’re doing something in a community, you’re doing something for that community. You’re getting their permission and making it clear that they are in control of what they are sharing with you. They need to know what you’re going to do with that information, and you need to make sure they are getting something back from your findings.”
And when he’s not immersed in greenery, Matthew turns to needle and thread. In addition to tailoring all his own clothes, he works in the costume shop at Cornell, preparing costumes for Cornell theater productions.
“I can create costumes from nothing, tailor and repair costumes that are already in stock, and do alterations. It’s been a great way for me to get away from plants and research for a while and do something completely different and very creative.”
When asked to offer advice to prospective Plant Science majors, Matthew emphasized making the most out of the many opportunities available at Cornell.
“If you already have a goal in mind when you come here, that’s great. But make sure you take a variety of courses within plant science to explore the field as much as possible. Everything is connected, and you don’t always appreciate knowledge that you thought was peripheral until you need it.”
And when asked to name what it is that drives him to succeed, Matthew returned to the theme of passion.
“I just love what I do. My passion for plants was the original motivating factor that brought me to Cornell. And once I arrived here, I realized that there were others who were equally passionate about the kinds of things I was interested in. That kind of experience opens your mind to new ideas and pushes you to explore those ideas in ways you would have never expected before. That’s been the most amazing thing about Cornell for me.”
The summer after graduating, Matthew stayed in Ithaca to work in the lab of William Fry on a project to improve computer modeling systems that help farmers respond to infestations of potato and tomato late blight. In fall 2014, Matthew will begin a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.