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CALS Sweethearts Fund Graduate Students in Plant Science

periodiCALS, Vol. 7, Issue 1, 2017

Mark Sellew and Lisa Preger Sellew in a greenhouse
Mark Sellew ’78 and Lisa Preger Sellew ’79, MBA ’82. Photo: Shari Margulies

Mark Sellew ’78 and Lisa Preger Sellew ’79, MBA ’82, saw more than seeds blossom in a plant genetics course as undergraduates in the 1970s. The CALS alumni would soon have that class to thank for their romantic—and professional—beginnings.

“She was a junior, a very good student—and she was my TA,” Mark said.

“We started dating the following summer,” Lisa added.

Mark credits CALS with fostering his love of plants. After graduating, he worked as a research associate before joining his father’s fledgling plant nursery, Prides Corner Farms, in Lebanon, Conn., in 1980. Lisa returned to Ithaca, earned her MBA at the Cornell Graduate School of Management, and launched a career in banking. They married in 1984, and Lisa joined the family business over a decade ago, as Prides Corner flourished from its modest beginnings.

“We started very small,” Mark said, “just a couple of greenhouses.”

Now, after 37 years in business, they grow seven million plants a year, employ 500 people, and farm 600 acres. Lined up single file, their greenhouses would stretch 50 miles. They are the largest grower in the Northeast region, boasting an on-site arboretum and a diverse product portfolio that includes native plants, fruits and vegetables, perennials, and even green roofs.

Their connection to Cornell is a family affair. Mark’s two brothers and Lisa’s father, grandmother, aunt, and cousin are all Cornellians. The next generation, their sons Benjamin Sellew ’13 and Jack Sellew ’15, studied plant science and agricultural science, respectively.

“It was fun to reconnect as a parent,” Lisa said. “I loved the university when we were students, but I saw Cornell get even better. The spirit of the school felt very similar, but technology really changed the way in which our kids were educated.”

Recognizing that graduate students are often key mentors for undergraduates in their critical research experiences, they decided to give a gift specifically for graduate students in the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS). The Sellew Family Excellence-in-Mentoring Graduate Fellowship will provide one year of support to five graduate students who embody the values of mentorship, teaching, and research. Their gift will be instrumental in drawing even more qualified students to study at SIPS. The Sellews’ goal was two-fold. First, to pay it forward.

“After all,” Mark noted, “I wasn’t a real plant nut until I got to Cornell.”

“It will only help our industry if we can offer grad students the opportunity to be there and do their research without the financial pressures,” Lisa added.

Second, they wanted to make sure that fostering relationships could be a priority.

“I want to be able to connect to these graduate students,” Mark said. “It’s quite impactful to see their desire to feed the world, to make a difference.”