Spending winter break hiking in the Shenandoah National Park highlights the connection Madison Blake feels with nature. Blake attended high school at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, studying technical theater, but her love of plants and the natural world won out for a career path. Blake is currently a sophomore majoring in horticulture. She hopes to one day work in a position focused on sustainable landscapes and ecologically friendly plant culture. Read more about Madison’s experiences as a UConn student.
What attracted you to UConn? What attracted me the most to UConn was its status as Connecticut’s land grant institution as well as it being highly renowned for its research programs. These two things mean that UConn has the funding and initiative to be a leader in both the agricultural and horticultural fields, and that was something I very much wanted to be a part of.
Why did you choose your particular major? I choose to major in horticulture, or more specifically, sustainable plant and soil systems (SPSS) with a focus on sustainable agriculture, because I have always loved plants. They are the most magnificent organisms and a cornerstone of life itself. Not only are they essential for oxygen, food and shelter, but they have incredible abilities to be modified to fulfill many human and environmental needs.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? I’m only a sophomore but so far, my work in Professor Berkowitz’s lab is the most memorable. I spent three semesters working on tissue culture of hemp, using young cotyledons and mature leaf tissue. While the scientific progress was more limited than I would have liked, I have learned a great deal about plants in tissue culture, aseptic technique and general lab culture. My work over these semesters has defined many of my experiences over the course of my time here and it has provided me with the opportunity to work with and meet some truly incredible and inspiring people.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. This past semester I have been very involved in the Horticulture Club on campus, which provides me with the opportunity to interact with other students interested in plants and do some really cool projects and fundraisers. I have also had the opportunity to visit Yale for a conference of the American Society of Plant Biologists and UMass Amherst for a mycology conference. Visiting theses other schools and connecting with like-minded students and professionals has been exciting and invaluable.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? I think ultimately the biggest challenge being at UConn is the ability to narrow down and focus on my interests. There are so many amazing opportunities that it is often hard to choose what ones to be involved in.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I am expecting to graduate in May of 2020 with a major in SPSS and a minor in molecular and cellular biology. Hopefully, these studies will provide the platform for continuing research. Ideally, in a lab or plant breeding facility.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I believe it is vital to connect with nature. It is through this connection that we are able to appreciate and enjoy the order and natural beauty that surrounds us. It is through this connection that we educate and inspire individuals and future generations to go green! Even as a horticulture major, I often don’t spend nearly as much time as I’d like around the natural world. Nature is the heart of who we are, and I think it’s important to remind people of that and encourage everyone to get outside and to hug a tree!