Emily Follett ’18

Follett gained competence and confidence in sustainable apple production.

How did you get interested in plants?

Unlike many of my fellow Plant Sciences majors, I haven't always loved plants. Growing up in a small town in Maine, I rebelled against my parents by hating the outdoors. But I came to my senses in high school and now have an innate need to be outside and near plants.

Now you’re passionate about apples.

Absolutely! I first became interested in apples specifically when I started working at a 6-acre orchard in high school. I realized I loved learning and talking about the 50 different apple varieties we sold, and decided my future studies had to center around apples.

What brought you from Maine to Cornell?

I knew Cornell was the school to go to for apples and plant science while simultaneously staying in the Northeast. When I first came to Cornell, I thought I wanted to breed new apple varieties. But over time, growing apples – not breeding them – became my focus. So I chose the Sustainable Plant Production concentration.

How did the courses in that concentration help you?

I took lots of practical production-oriented courses, topics like ecological orchard management, berry crops, plant nutrition, soil science, weed and disease management. But I also took other courses that helped me understand the underlying function and physiology of plants that affect production.

Were you able to get any practical, hands-on experience?

I had an internship at Cornell Orchards where I set up, ran and collected data from experiments for various professors.  I did post-harvest tests on apples and field work to prepare and maintain the orchards.

I also had internships at commercial orchards back in Maine, and got more practical experience during the semester I spent abroad at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. All these experiences have prepared me well and I feel confident of the skills I’ve gained as I venture into the workforce. You can talk about how to prune and think how to scout for pests in class.  But you really need experience actually doing it to understand these topics.

Did you participate in any extracurricular activities at Cornell?

I was president of the cross-country ski racing team at Cornell, traveling every weekend during the winter to races in the Northeast, with a week in March spent at Nationals. Winter is a slow time for most fruit growers, so this hobby really works with my interest in apples.

What are your future plans?

The summer before I graduated in December 2018, I was hired by AgroFresh, the company that developed SmartFresh, a post-harvest treatment that greatly increases the storage life of apples. I worked for them part-time until graduation, then started full-time. It’s exciting to work for such an important company in the apple industry.

Someday in the near future I want to pursue a masters degree in some aspect of apple tree physiology and rejoin a university system, possibly studying how apple trees interact with the environment and how they’re affected by climate change.

Any advice for new Plant Sciences majors?

Take every opportunity you can get to work with your hands and be outdoors in your classes and beyond. It will help reduce stress and make you remember why you want to study plants. Additionally, find a professor you work well with and ask them lots of questions.  All the professors are here to help you succeed and can give you lots of connections throughout Cornell and the plant community. And if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that connections are everything!