Plant Diagnostic Lab’s leader solves biological puzzles

Abby Beissinger
Abby Beissinger

When Assistant Extension Educator Abby Beissinger took over leadership of the UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab in the spring of 2019, she dove into a job that seems tailor made for her interests, background and skills. As is often the case with extension educators, the path to her current position was not necessarily direct.

Born and raised in a suburb of Chicago, Beissinger majored in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She was interested in primate and human evolution. She studied how humans shape their landscapes. Her adventurous nature took her to Costa Rica and Uganda to help implement low-cost pest management systems and to undertake community needs assessments through development projects. After graduation, she joined AmeriCorps and served with the environmental nonprofit Groundwork Lawrence to establish schoolyard gardens with K-12 students.

But how did this path lead to plant diagnostics? Beissinger smiles as she recalls taking a plant pathology course on a whim to complete her undergraduate science requirements. Suddenly the path toward anthropology took a sharp turn toward diagnosing the intricacies of insect pests and plant diseases. She enrolled in a graduate program at Washington State University and studied potato virus Y and its effect on the livelihoods of western Washington potato growers. She applied her interest in human development and human health to the interaction of plant health and diseases.

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CAHNR in the news

Students reading

CNBC quoted Professor Sherry Pagoto of allied health sciences on the challenges digital health companies face in getting clinicians and product developers to work together. Pagoto is director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media.

CAHNR alumna Ashley Kalinauskas (’12) was named to the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science list. Kalinauskas earned a bachelor’s degree in pathobiology and veterinary sciences.

Assistant Extension Educator Dawn Pettinelli shared the benefits of using leaf mold to add organic material to a garden in This Old House. Leaf mold can enhance soil permeability and water retention. Pettinelli manages the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory and the UConn Home & Garden Education Center. Continue reading

Awards and achievements in CAHNR

Rhodes Scholar Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru Honored at Events

From left, Kumar Venkitanarayanan, Jason Vokoun, Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru, Indrajeet Chaubey, Michael P. O'Neill and Sandra Bushmich at a breakfast reception celebrating Gatheru's Rhodes Scholarship on December 12.
From left, Kumar Venkitanarayanan, Jason Vokoun, Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru, Indrajeet Chaubey, Michael P. O’Neill and Sandra Bushmich at a breakfast reception celebrating Gatheru’s Rhodes Scholarship on December 12.

Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru, a senior majoring in environmental studies with minors in global studies and urban and community studies, was honored as UConn’s first Rhodes Scholar at two recent events.

The UConn community celebrated with Gatheru at a breakfast reception at the Storrs campus on December 12, 2019. She attended another event at the Connecticut State Capitol and received high accolades from Governor Ned Lamont, legislators and others on December 18, 2019. UConn Today reported on the Hartford event.

Gatheru is among thirty-two people nationwide elected to the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2020 to continue postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford in England. She plans to pursue dual master’s degrees in Nature, Society, and Environmental Governance and Evidence-based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation. She also wants to research overlooked barriers that prevent people of color from participating in the environmental field during her studies at Oxford.

By Jason M. Sheldon