AFE announces recipients of 2017 Altman Family Scholarship and Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholarship

AFE announces recipients of 2017 Altman Family Scholarship and Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholarship

The recipients are Matthew "Travis" Higginbotham, Nathan Jahnke, Emily Teng and Kaylee South.

April 17, 2017
Press Release

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The American Floral Endowment (AFE) has named three students as recipients of the 2017 Altman Family Scholarship. Each student will receive $5,000 in funding from this scholarship.

  • Matthew "Travis" Higginbotham, Virginia Tech
  • Nathan Jahnke, North Carolina State University
  • Emily Teng, University of Hawaii at Manoa

The Altman Family Scholarship was created in 2015 by Ken and Deena Altman (owners of Altman Plants) and assists in funding the education of floriculture graduate students (MS or Ph.D.), who will become leading floricultural scientists and educators.

"It was difficult to narrow down to just one winner, since the applicants were very impressive this year," said Ken Altman.

"There were a record number of applicants and they were extremely well-qualified," he said. "Our industry's future is in good hands with these outstanding students."

Travis Higginbotham is currently pursuing a master's degree in horticulture, and will subsequently obtain his Ph.D., at Virginia Tech. In addition, he is working full time as the research and development manager at Battlefield Farms.

While he was in college working toward his bachelor's degree in environmental horticulture at Clemson University, he worked at Metrolina Greenhouses as its first research and development Intern. In addition, he managed a retail nursery and managed his own small landscaping business with commercial and residential contracts.

"I believe, if given the right tools and earned support, I can work with others to help make this industry better and more efficient than it was yesterday," said Higginbotham.

His future goal is to help environmentally influence the industry in a positive, progressive and practical way.
"I would love the opportunity to have the industry's ear in regard to environmental practices in the future," he said.

Nathan Jahnke is a graduate student at North Carolina State University working toward a master's degree in horticultural science.

His interest in floriculture surged at 13 years old, when he measured and compared plant height for a science fair project. This led to creating his own business, Nathan's Greenhouse. There, he and his father worked together to grow flowers and vegetables for neighbors and the community.

"It helped me learn the importance of hard work, perseverance, communication and investing in people," said Jahnke.

His internship at Ball Horticultural Company cemented his desire to focus on floriculture. He will concentrate on botrytis and postharvest handling of floriculture crops as he obtains his Ph.D., and once he graduates, he plans on becoming a university professor.

"I will be an ambassador and connection point between academia, industry and the public," he said. "Collaborating with the people I research for and the people that are affected by plants is one of the most important aspects in securing the future of horticulture."

Emily Teng is pursuing her Ph.D. in Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

She began working at Pang's Nursery in 2007 and learned about producing poinsettias, which she describes as her "greatest challenge and greatest accomplishment." Her doctoral research will focus on analyzing anthocyanins in poinsettias.

"It is very important to me that my research, in addition to being scientifically significant, is practical and useful for real-world growers," said Teng.

"Applying my experience with the knowledge and research skills I will obtain while pursuing my doctorate will poise me for a position in which I can help the floriculture industry improve, grow and thrive," she said.

After completing her degree, she wants to work in the private sector for a few years, and hopes to work at one of the larger floriculture breeding companies doing research that directly impacts growers. In the future, she expressed interest in becoming an educator.

The American Floral Endowment has also announced the recipient of the 2017 Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholarship.
Kaylee South, a Ph.D. student at The Ohio State University – OARDC, was awarded a $10,000 scholarship ($5,000 for two consecutive years).

"There were a record number of applications this year, which shows the growing interest and need for AFE scholarships. The high quality of students is a testament to their exceptional determination and passion, and I am confident these future leaders will help the industry progress," said Dwight Larimer, AFE chairman and education committee chair.

Kaylee is pursuing her Ph.D. in agriculture and is researching botrytis in floriculture crops. Her focus is isolating bacteria that has beneficial qualities in floriculture crops that can be successfully applied to control botrytis.

"I am striving to reach my professional goals which include not only learning in classes and working in the lab, but also presenting my work, research and results in conferences and other meetings," said Kaylee.

Her future career goal is to work at a land-grant university teaching and working in research with floriculture crops.

"I want to pass on the knowledge and passion that my agriculture teachers and college instructors gave to me. Because of the opportunities I have had to travel, learn and meet new people, I have been given what I need to bloom where I have been planted," she said.

In 2015, Kaylee received her bachelor of science in agriculture at the University of Georgia, where she was also a member of the school's Horticulture Club and Pi Alpha Xi, which is a floriculture, landscape, horticulture and ornamental horticulture honors society.

She also performed an AFE Vic & Margaret Ball Internship at The Sun Valley Group in Arcata, Calif. in 2014.

The Paul Ecke, Jr. Scholarship was established in 2010 and honors the late Paul Ecke, Jr., who made significant contributions to the floriculture industry and believed strongly in research and education. He recognized that creative scientists and educators are required to lead the floral industry in the 21st century and beyond.

This merit-based, prestigious scholarship has been funded by industry contributions and the Ecke family to assist in funding the education of floriculture graduate students (MS or Ph.D.) at land-grant institutions, who will become leading floricultural scientists and educators.

The 2016 Ecke recipient, Kellie Walters of Michigan State University (MSU), will receive her second year of funding this year.

She is working toward her Ph.D. in the Department of Horticulture at MSU, and her career goals include becoming a professor and providing research-based solutions to floriculture problems.