Congratulations to Emma Weiss, the College Spring 2021 Student Commencement Speaker

Showing off an enormous leaf from the pepper plants grown by the Green Roots Hydroponics Club

Image Credit: Michael Malcolm

May 10, 2021 Samantha Watters

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) will hold its Spring 2021 Commencement celebration online, premiering on the UMD Commencement website Thursday, May 20th at 1:00 pm Eastern in advance of the in-person campus-wide ceremony on Friday, May 21st. Emma Weiss, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Plant Biology and a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science and Technology, has been selected by her peers to serve as AGNR’s student speaker. Weiss served in leadership roles in Sigma Alpha, Green Roots Hydroponics, and is a representative on the Dean’s Student Advisory Council. We caught up with Weiss for a preview of her commencement address, and to look back on her time at AGNR.

Grape harvest
Helping out with the grape harvest at Robin Hill Farm and Vineyards in Brandywine, Md; Credit: Liz Pritchett

Q: What motivated you to pursue your degree in AGNR?

I’ve loved spending time outdoors since I was a kid, and was always inspired by my dad’s work in international development. In high school, after doing a few service trips abroad, I realized that I also wanted to pursue a career in development work. When I joined that passion with my love for plants and the outdoors, agriculture seemed like an obvious fit. I chose AGNR because many of the faculty here are doing research in agricultural development, and I wanted to be part of that.

Weiss and her colleague, Kerrin Massarueh, next to the aquaponic system they built for the non-profit Small Change 4 Big Change near Antigua, Guatemala; Credit: Lisa de Mena

Q: What was unique and memorable about your time with AGNR?

One of my first impressions of AGNR, which stuck with me for all four years, was how welcoming and supportive the entire community was. After just a few weeks on campus, I attended a gathering in the Animal Sciences courtyard, and after mingling with some of my professors, one of them offered me the opportunity to work in her lab! That opened the door for me to continue to get involved in research. Since the beginning, AGNR staff and faculty have been genuine in wanting to help me achieve my goals.

Q: What have you learned throughout your AGNR experience that can help you make your mark on the world?

I think the biggest thing I learned during my time in AGNR was that I do have the opportunity to make real change through my work. Many of my professors have traveled all over the world to work side by side with farmers in developing areas in order to improve food security and agricultural development. They set the example for me and gave me the confidence to follow in their footsteps, but to do it in my own way, using my own skills and interests as a guide.

Green Roots
As Executive Director, Weiss teaches members of the Green Roots Hydroponics Club about how to construct and maintain the lettuce raft systems; Credit: Kerrin Massarueh

Q: What are your plans for the future, and how has AGNR helped shape those goals?

In the short term, I’ll be spending the next six months on a farm in Hawaii to learn more about tropical permaculture and sustainable grazing. Beyond that, I hope to serve in the Peace Corps as an agricultural Extension volunteer, then attend grad school to gain more skills in agroecology and cultural competency. Eventually, I hope to work abroad with farmers in agricultural development and Extension. AGNR helped me develop as a leader and gain the confidence and skills I need to strive for a challenging, impactful career.

Q: What advice for others, if any, do you have as AGNR graduates prepare to take their next steps?

My biggest piece of advice is to aim high! Taking (calculated) risks, challenging yourself, and pushing your boundaries are essential to growth. Don’t settle for a lesser version of yourself. But don’t forget to look back every now and again too. Appreciate where you came from, and be grateful for the people who helped you get to where you are now.