Congratulations to Shannon Rotella, the AGNR Commencement 2022 Student Speaker

May 12, 2022 Andrew Muir

AGNR will hold its 2022 Commencement celebration on Thursday, May 19 at 3:30pm. Shannon Rotella, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science & Technology with a concentration in Environmental Horticulture, has been selected to serve as AGNR's student speaker. 

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

I was working full time at a desk job for the Department of Defense and realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk in a windowless building. Rather than spending my life supporting an industry that is in a way, destructive in nature, I wanted to pursue a career that benefits society.   

Q: Tell us a unique and memorable story from your time with AGNR.

While taking fruit and vegetable production, we went on a class field trip to the Wye Research Center. During our time there, we learned about the methods and technologies used for annual strawberry production. We even got to plant some strawberry plugs for the upcoming spring. After learning about strawberry production, we were free to wander the surrounding area and eat whatever was nearby and ready to harvest including watermelon, apples, and some of the sweetest corn I’ve ever tasted.  It was one of the most educational and enjoyable experiences during my time at UMD. After the field trip was over, one of my classmates and I spent the rest of the day at the outlets nearby shopping and fooling around in stores we couldn’t afford. That classmate is now my best friend!  

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

I learned that there’s a lot of room for improvement in the world of agriculture. Pretty much any step made towards sustainability and regeneration by we, the members of the AGNR community, will have a positive impact on the world. The trick is how do we get the majority to adopt these practices?  

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

Within a few months into my first semester in AGNR, I realized I wanted to go to graduate school. There is so much we still don’t know, and our future depends on the research the AGNR faculty and similar institutions are conducting. I will be pursuing my graduate studies here at the University of Maryland starting in the fall. While I knew that I wanted to further my education past the undergraduate level, I did not know what specific subject I wanted to pursue. After vocalizing this to my advisor, Dr. Diana Cochran, I was encouraged to do as many internships as possible to find something I like. I found my passion for viticulture during one of these internships and knew that it was what I wanted to pursue. Pretty much any class with a project where I picked the subject became about grapes, and by doing so, I was able to obtain a holistic understanding of grape production, find the gaps in research, then (hopefully) target those gaps in my graduate studies. My graduate research will be focused on cultural control practices of grape pathogens under Dr. Mengjun Hu’s guidance. This will hopefully allow grape growers to rely less on chemical control measures and implement a more integrated approach towards pathogen management. Once I finish graduate school, I hope to work in Extension and maybe even own my vineyard someday.  

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

Remember that our education and learning has only just begun! While what we learned through AGNR is important, what’s most important is that we learned the skills to educate ourselves. We need to continue evolving our understanding of the industry and strive to implement novel strategies that will lead towards a better future.