Student Speaker Award Recipients

Swati Shrestha

Swati Shrestha is a PhD student in “Vegetable Breeding and Genetics Lab” at UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center, Homestead, Florida. She is currently working on development of high yielding virus resistant squash cultivars using traditional and molecular breeding approaches. Her research interest lies in exploiting the advances in high-throughput genotyping and bioinformatics to understand genetic control of economically important traits and use this information to develop diagnostic markers that would enhance breeding efficiency through marker assisted selection. Apart from research, Swati has demonstrated effectiveness as a science communicator and won numerous competitions including 3-minute thesis competition organized by National Association of Plant Breeders, Flash Talk organized by UF Environmental Horticulture Department, Oral Research Presentation at Syngenta Plant Breeding Retreat and Research Presentation organized by UF Plant Breeders Working Group. Additionally, she has also been part of many peer-reviewed journal publications. Moving forward Swati hopes to continue carrying out impactful research either in academia or industry.

Christina Finegan

Christina Finegan is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology program at the University of Florida. She received her B.S. from UF, where worked as an undergraduate research assistant developing molecular markers for molecular breeding of tomatoes. Now, Christina uses quantitative genetics to study nitrogen use efficiency in the UF Sweet Corn Breeding and Genomics Lab. Now, Christina is also involved a project focused on engineering symbiotic nitrogen fixation into crops. Her work brings quantitative genetics, molecular biology, and bioinformatics together to accelerate and improve plant breeding.

Samantha Burrell

Samantha R. Burrell is a Ph.D. Candidate studying Environmental Horticulture in Dr. Dave Clark's lab at the University of Florida. Samantha's research project focuses on discovering how the new basil cultivars produced by UF's basil breeding program resist infection by Peronospora belbahrii, the causal agent of basil downy mildew. Outside of research, Samantha also pursues science communication and has co-founded a K-12th grade plant science outreach program (Exploring Plants "Growing Under the Rainbow"),  won the UF 3mT (three minute thesis) competition, and co-authored a college gardening textbook submitted to the UF publishing office to be used in the class ORH1030 "Plants, Gardening, & YOU". Samantha hopes to pursue a career in plant biochemistry and molecular genetics focused on plants for medicine/human health and continue to communicate science.