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US (TX): Student blooms in horticulture field, from an Odessa plant nursery to doctoral research

What started as a nurseryman job at a local garden center, Yard Dog, in Odessa, turned into doctoral research in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for Mason Marshall '26. Marshall is a graduate student in the Department of Horticultural Sciences who has a passion for horticulture, ornamental plants and teaching.

Marshall grew up in Odessa and began attending a local community college in 2015. Around the same time, he landed a job at a local plant nursery that inspired him to eventually pursue a degree at Texas A&M University.

Marshall took a leap of faith and moved across the state to transfer into the College at Bryan-College Station and never looked back. Seven years later, he's graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees and is working toward his doctorate, all from the same department.

With his seven years of experience across multiple degree's, Marshall shared with us his story and perspective as a long-time student in the College and department.

What led you to graduate school at Texas A&M?
I was working at a local nursery in Odessa, and the couple that ran it were big Aggies. One of the owners, Lynn Correa '72 happened to be among the first women to graduate from the university. I was already interested in horticulture and had the chance to work closely with some great Aggies, so I wanted to transfer here. I'm grateful for the knowledge and passion Randy and Lynn Correa instilled in me prior to arriving at Texas A&M.

Tell us about your research focus for your doctorate.
I'm working on ornamental selections and breeding, but I'm generally focused on ornamental production, producing plants in a greenhouse and breeding new plants.

I work with Mike Arnold, Ph.D., professor and director of The Gardens at Texas A&M University. He's my committee chair, and we work on a wildflower called Mexican Hat. It's a coneflower, and it normally exists in red, yellow or bicolor variations. You see it throughout much of the U.S. Together, we're screening plants from different areas in the southeast. We found some interesting traits, like lemon color, upright petals and small growth habit. We are hoping to start breeding them, and we'll do some controlled crossing in the greenhouse. It's a lot to learn, as it's a new plant for me, but I am in my second year working with it and am excited to continue.

Also, during my master's, I served as a teaching assistant for a floral design class, so I have some floral experience. I hope to undertake a few cut flower projects and evaluate how they last as cut flowers for things like bouquets.

What sparked your interest in this field of research?
It all started when I was working on my bachelor's degree with Terri Starman, Ph.D., a professor in our department. I did undergraduate research with her during my senior year, focusing on a hybrid ornamental sunflower called Sunfinity. This research then carried over into my master's, where we collaborated with two industry partners.

When I was looking to return to school after completing my master's, I had potential opportunities to study either here or in Georgia, in a vastly different horticultural area. At the time, I knew Dr. Arnold had a crop here to work on that interested me. Studying this plant with him would be a new challenge, but I knew I could learn a lot from him, which ultimately kept me in College Station.

Tell us about your experience as a current graduate student
I enjoy the experience here because of the opportunities provided through the department and the College, as well as the networking I get here.

Everyone talks about the Aggie network, but specifically in horticulture, I feel that we have such broad connections even though we are a smaller department.

I also really appreciate our department's applied research opportunities. Many students are interested in plants and horticulture, but we also get to take both applied science courses and creative art courses. Horticulture encompasses both the art and the science of growing and working with plants, not just one or the other.

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