While The Ohio State University is most often noted for its football team, the United Soybean Board (USB) is much more interested in the team of researchers working in the lab to find solutions for Ohio farmers.
Stephanie Verhoff, a graduate student in the translational plant sciences PhD program at Ohio State, was recently selected as a USB Fellowship recipient. The fellowships are awarded each year to graduate students who hold a great potential to advance the research and science of soybean improvement.
Verhoff has had a strong interest in genetics since high school, but when she first enrolled at Ohio State as an undergraduate she was leaning toward human genetics. Once on campus, she discovered the crop science major and her passion for plants began to take root.
“My freshman year I switched majors into crop science and that got me more interested in plant breeding specifically,“ said Verhoff. “Having my family farm background it seemed like an appropriate fit between genetics, biology and farming.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2014 Verhoff interned with Monsanto’s soybean breeding facility in Findlay, Ohio, working in their variety development department. She returned to Ohio State in January to begin working on her doctorate degree with a research focus in soybean breeding.
Verhoff joined a team of soybean researchers that includes Dr. Anne Dorrance, Dr. Leah McHale and fellow grad student Anna Stasko, who received one of the 2014 USB Fellowship awards. A large focus of their recent research has been partial resistance to Phytophthora sojae, a soil-borne pathogen that causes root rot and is a prominent problem in Ohio.
“Our research team focuses on identifying genes that contribute to disease resistance in soybeans,” said Verhoff. “Armed with this information, breeders can use marker-assisted selection to select for desired traits more efficiently and develop more robust varieties for growers.”
Neal Hageman, who serves as the research director for USB said they design the fellowships to “support PhD graduate students who are actively involved in research to advance an area of soybean science. We select students who intend to pursue a career in soybean sciences, production research or breeding.”
While financial support is an obvious benefit, the benefits of the fellowship go much further. Students receive access to additional resources that will help further their research and the networking opportunities can be the most valuable part of the package.
“The award helps financially to cover my costs as a student, but what I’m more excited about is that I get to interact with the USB, present my research to them this winter and work with them throughout my four years of my fellowship. It’s unique that I get to work with the board and talk to the growers face to face about my research. I’m looking forward to that experience and being able to network with them and learn from them,” said Verhoff.
Verhoff hopes to one day be a commercial soybean breeder or hold a position as a professor with an extension appointment.
“It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture, there is a lot of innovation and technology being integrated, especially for breeding and genetics. I think there are going to be a lot of new tools to use coming up in the next decade and beyond,” said Verhoff. “It would be exciting to develop a variety and see that sign on a farmer’s field and know that it did well for them and helped boost their return.”