Allison Coomber ‘18

Coomber found a pre-built, collaborative community of plant enthusiasts at Cornell.

How did you get interested in plants?

I was always fascinated by biology. But my love for plants really kicked in when I started to grow them myself. In middle school, I brought a lemon seed home from a restaurant and planted it.  That tree has grown along with my passion for plants and is now taller than I am.

What brought you to Cornell?

I read about Cornell’s poisonous plants garden. I thought a place with a collection like that must be a good place to study if you loved plants.

Tell us about your academic experience.

I started out as a Biology major, but I soon fell in love with plant breeding and switched to Plant Sciences with a concentration in Plant Breeding and Genetics. It’s more of an applied science where you can actually see how what you’re doing helps farmers and consumers directly. Plants have a special place in my heart. But it is their genetics and diversity that truly entertains my love for problem-solving.

I also found Plant Sciences to be a more cooperative and collaborative major. We hang out with each other and help each other instead of competing for medical school acceptances.

Did you have any favorite classes?

I took a range of great courses that helped me understand plants from the subcellular to the ecosystem level. But if I had to pick one, I really liked Plant Breeding professor Mark Sorrells Methods of Plant Breeding Laboratory (PLBRG 4060). We took field trips and visited a dozen plant breeders to learn about their programs directly from them. We got to see the diversity of personalities and approaches to plant breeding.

Did you get any hands-on research experience?

I conducted a research project exploring the chemical compounds in an herb used in traditional medicine, Lepidium meyenii, during my sophomore year. I also did honors thesis research on forage intercropping, working with Soil and Crop Sciences PhD student Ann Bybee-Finley. These projects helped me apply what I learned in classes and gave me a chance to manage projects on my own.

I also got practical experience working with plant specimens from around the world in the Plant Biology Section’s Liberty Hyde Bailey Herbarium. And during a summer internship at the Planting Fields Arboretum on Long Island, I developed hands-on skills for taking care of plants and creating beautiful gardens.

What extracurricular activities were you involved with?

I worked with Marcia Eames-Sheavly in the Horticulture Section to pilot a peer mentor program for freshman and transfers to the Plant Sciences major.  By helping incoming majors learn the ropes on everything from course requirements to the best meal plans, we helped make their adjustment to Cornell easier.

I was also a member of the chess club and PAX, the national honor society for plant sciences.

What advice to you have for incoming Plant Sciences majors?

Don’t be intimidated by how big Cornell is.  You’ve got a pre-built community of fellow students who share your passion for plants.

What are your future plans?

I have accepted an offer to attend the functional genomics Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. I received this fellowship from them, which I am really excited about.