UGA Horticulture Department

Jesse Lafian receives scholarship from the landscape Architecture Foundation

Jesse Lafian

Jesse Lafian

Jesse Lafian received the ‘2017 Rain Bird Intelligent Use of Water Scholarship’ from the  Landscape Architecture Foundation. Jesse Lafian is a senior Horticulture student at the University of Georgia (UGA) and the founder of Reservoir, a startup company that is developing a patent-pending tensiometer that can measure how much water in the soil is available to plants. This technology will help landscapers and farmers conserve water, reduce agro-chemical pollution, and increase profits by improving irrigation management. Jesse has raised $13,500 from grants and built a small-scale laboratory prototype with his mentor Dr. Marc van Iersel, a UGA Horticulture Professor and irrigation-sensor expert. In addition to this scholarship, Jesse has recently won the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences ‘Fabricate’ entrepreneur competition as well as the ‘Next Top Entrepreneur’ competition organized by the Terry College of Business.  Jesse plans to secure more funding to complete R&D on the tensiometer after his upcoming graduation. Aside from school and work, he enjoys drumming, hiking, and riding his 1980 Kawasaki motorcycle.



David Berle named Outstanding Practitioner of the Year by Gulf-South Summit

Our own industrious colleague, David Berle, associate professor of horticulture and director of the UGArden, has been named the 2017 Service-Learning Practitioner of the Year by the Gulf-South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement through Higher Education. This award recognizes Berle’s sustained record of engaging students in community-based learning through service-learning projects and courses, as well as his development and leadership of the student-run UGArden, and his role in supporting the institutionalization of service-learning at UGA. Berle was recognized with a plaque and cash award at the Summit in Greensboro, NC in March.  If you are visiting campus for graduation or campus orientation visits, stop by the UGArden to see the amazing things happening there. 2500 South Milledge Ave, Athens, GA. just past the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia.

Photo: David Berle (R) accepting the award from Gulf-South Summit awards chair Kristin Harper.(L).

PhD student Shuyang Zhen’s research highlighted on ISHS website

Shuyang, collecting data in the greenhouse

PhD student Shuyang Zhen’s research on the effects of far-red light on photosynthetic efficiency is highlighted on the website of the International Society for Horticultural Science. Shuyang presented some of her research on this topic at the 2016 ISHS lighting symposium in East Lansing, MI, where she won the student competition. Her work has shown that plants can use light from LEDs more efficiently if the light is supplemented with far-red light and has important practical applications for the design of grow lights. She works in the horticultural physiology lab under the guidance of Dr. Marc van Iersel. Great work done by a great student!

Horticulture senior Jesse Lafian wins CAES entrepreneurship competition


UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Joe Broder congratulates fourth-year horticulture student Jesse Lafian, whose smart irrigation business, Reservoir, won the grand prize in CAES’s inaugural FABricate entrepreneurship competition.

Jesse Lafian, a senior undergraduate in the horticulture department, won the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ Fabricate entrepreneurship competition. Jesse has been working a novel type of soil moisture sensor that can help farmers and landscapers track the irrigation needs of their plants. The ultimate goal is to integrate the soil moisture sensor with an irrigation controller, so that plants can be irrigated automatically when needed. He plans to bring this product to market through his company Reservoir, LLC.

Dr. Marc van Iersel has served as one of Jesse’s mentor and the horticultural physiology lab has helped him with testing prototypes of the irrigation controller.

Great job, Jesse!


For the full story, see this link.

Gray Simpson Named Horticulture Department Outstanding Senior

Gray Simpson has been chosen by the faculty to be the departmental Outstanding Senior. Gray has distinguished himself by receiving several noteworthy awards: Greenhouse Product News Intern of the Year,  American Floral Endowment Vic and Margaret Ball Internship at Metrolina Greenhouses, Sidney B. Meadows Scholarship, and the most prestigious scholarship offered by the Garden Club of Georgia. He is the Horticulture Vice President and has efficiently grown plants for sale and coordinated the efforts of numerous student to hold a very successful Plant Sale.  He also was the Production Coordinator for the Pi Alpha Xi Poinsettia sale.  Congratulations Gray, and Well done!


Hort Faculty Recognized For Teaching Efforts




Several Horticulture Department faculty were recently recognized for their teaching efforts at the 2016 Celebration of Teaching sponsored by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences here at UGA.  Dr. Doug Bailey, our Department Head, along with Dr. Marc van Iersel, were recognized by students and received the CTL “Thank a Teacher Award.” Professor Marc van Iersel was recognized for receiving the prestigious 2016 American Society for Horticultural Science Outstanding Graduate Educator Award, and Tim Smalley was recognized for receiving the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship, our highest University level teaching award. Rounding out the evening. Dr. David Berle, Dr. Matthew Chappell, Dr. Tim Smalley, Dr. Bodie Pennisi, and Dr. Paul Thomas received recognition for their classes being cited by students as “My Favorite Class” in the 2015 “Thank a Professor Week” activities. Given how small our department is compared to many in the college, we represented well. Special thanks to the anonymous Horticulture students who said so many nice things about our faculty! (Pictures are faculty able to attend the banquet: From the left Dr. Marc van Iersel, Dr. Bodie Pennisi, Dr. Tim Smalley and Dr. Paul Thomas. Not present but appreciated are Dr. Doug Bailey, Dr. David Berle and Dr. Matt Chappell.

Horticulture graduate students win awards at the 61st SNA Research Conference

SNA winners, 2016

The happy winners from the 2016 SNA research Conference included Zhitong Li (2nd from left, 3rd place, MS competition), David Gianino (middle, 1st place MS competition) Geoffrey Weaver, third from right, 2nd place PhD competition) and Shuyang Zhen (right, 1st place PhD competition). Great students doing good work!

The 61st Annual Southern Nursery Association Research Conference was held in Athens, GA on August 30 and 31, 2016. The highlight of the first day was the annual student competition, with separate competitions for BS, MS, and PhD students. The horticulture department was well represented in the competition, with David Gianino and Zhitong Li in the MS division, while Shuyang Zhen and Geoffrey Weaver were part of the PhD competition. Our students gave outstanding talks and clearly impressed the judges. David Gianino won the MS competition with his presentation titled ‘Adaptive LED Lighting Can Benefit Greenhouse Production’. He discussed the benefits of the adaptive LED lights developed by him and Dr. Marc van Iersel. Zhitong Li, who works in Dr. John Ruter’s lab placed third in the MS competition for her talk titled ‘Induction of Tetraploid Hibiscus moscheutos through Seedling Soaking’. She discussed her ongoing breeding work on Hibiscus. Shuyang Zhen won the PhD competition for her presentation on ‘Modeling Daily Water Use of Bedding Plants Based on Environmental Factors and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index’, discussing the use of remote sensing to estimate canopy size. that information can then be used for predicting crop water needs. Geoffrey Weaver placed second with his talk on ‘Screening Photosynthetic Performance of Bedding Plants Using Chlorophyll Fluorescence’. his worked is focused on determining how efficiently different crops can use light (and how that depends on light intensity). Both Shuyang Zhen and Geoffrey Weaver work with Dr. Marc van Iersel in the Horticultural Physiology Lab. We are very proud of the outstanding work that is being done by our graduate students!

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