Melissa had no real experience in agriculture, other than a few years in 4-H as a kid, until she met Dr. Steve Johnston while she was giving a university tour.
Steve, a vegetable pathologist, learned Melissa was studying biology and lived only 10 miles from Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center (RAREC). He gave her a shot at a summer farm job. It became the perfect opportunity.
As Steve’s assistant, Melissa planted “rows and rows and picked mountains and mountains of peppers.” After working as his summer assistant, Melissa became his vegetable pathology technician. Not only did Steve teach Melissa the difference between Phytophthora and Pythium, he instilled in Melissa his passion for pathology and agriculture. Melissa ultimately became the IR-4 Field Research Director responsible for coordinating “grass roots” efforts to provide pest control product alternatives compatible with minor crop integrated pest management programs. Today Melissa is a high school teacher of agriculture and biology.
Despite growing up surrounded by farmland, Melissa says she never fully appreciated the importance of agriculture until she worked at RAREC. “I can honestly say that I learned something new everyday while I worked at RAREC. Agriculture will now always be a part of my life whether I am in the classroom teaching or helping on my in-laws farm.” There was only one time Melissa had doubts about her career choice: the first time she drove a tractor. “Steve forgot to tell me how to stop it!”
Education: B.S. Biology; Masters in Plant Pathology, Rutgers University
Hometown: Shiloh, NJ
Position After Graduation: IR-4 Field Research Director; Teacher of Agriculture and Biology