Hannah Fuller '19

Fuller’s love of plants blossomed into an engagement with sustainable food systems.

See also: How Hannah Fuller ’19 is changing the food system game to put people first

How did you get interested in plants?

Gardening with my father.  As long as I can remember, he would bring me to the garden to plant seeds in the spring and bulbs in the fall. We lived in the Pacific Northwest where everything was green and lush. In high school I was fascinated with biology and took an internship at the Portland State University Seed Bank. I was hooked.

What brought you all the way from Portland to Cornell?

Cornell was one of the only places where I could study plants specifically as an undergrad but also take advantage of really strong programs in other disciplines. I have lots of interests and it was hard to settle in on a major at first.  But the interdisciplinary nature of Cornell and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) allowed me to continue to foster other interests beyond plants.

Tell us about your experience within the plant science community at Cornell.

The professors I have worked with have been the best part of my time at Cornell. CALS professors, especially those in the School of Integrative Plant Sciences (SIPS) really take the time to actually get to know you and really care about your learning and well-being.

This fosters a close-knit community within the Plant Sciences major between the students and the faculty as well as the students themselves. I am still very close with the group of Plant Sciences majors who all came in together as freshman, which I don't think is true for every major. I am grateful for their support both in the classroom and outside. 

Did you have any favorite professors?

My advisor, Marvin Pritts, is one of the most thoughtful and supportive professors I have found on campus. He really cares holistically about my wellbeing and shaping my experience with the Plant Sciences major to fit my needs and interests. I made my own concentration in Urban Agriculture, a combination of my interests in landscape architecture, food systems and community gardening. He was essential to making everything fit together and reflect my passions. We also traveled to Nicaragua together with a course titled Coffee, Cacao and Climate Change, which was simply a blast.   

Marcia Eames-Sheavly was also essential to my experience at Cornell. She was my professor for the Seed to Supper course during my sophomore year. The course really changed my life. It taught me about food systems and started my passion for community development and gardening.  That eventually led to the addition of my second major International Agriculture & Rural Development in my junior year.

After I was her student for a full year, I spent the summer as a Seed to Supper intern for Cornell Cooperative Extension. The following year I was a teaching assistant the Seed to Supper class and then this past January Marcia sent me to Belize to lay the groundwork for an evaluation course she was taking there this spring. This was one of the most impactful experiences during my time at Cornell because I got to see how a development project really can make a difference and how to evaluate the success of a project after it is completed. That’s something you can’t learn in the classroom.

What other hands-on experience did you get at Cornell?

Between my junior and senior year, I was a CALS Global Fellow in India with the Tata Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition. I was studying the orange-fleshed sweet potato and why farmers choose to adopt new crops. I was able to get out of my comfort zone and learn so much about a new part of the world, how different food systems work, how smallholder farmers operate and how plant breeding affects real people every day. I gained a lot of qualitative research experience and a lot of confidence in my ability to take on new challenges. 

It sounds like you’ve really been applying your love of plants to food systems.

I was very excited to be a member of the second cohort of the CALS Community Food Systems minor. The minor brings together students from so many different majors and has really helped me to understand the implications of plant science in a broader context. Every student participates in a practicum experience where they engage in a hands-on way with a partner working with community food systems. It's a type of engaged learning that I think is so important, and I'm so proud of the work that everyone in my cohort has done. This year we published a book of stories about our experiences in the field during our practicums.

Have you had time for any extracurricular activities?

Outside of the classroom, I was heavily involved in Anabel's Grocery, the student-run grocery store at Cornell. I served as the president of the programming team, organizing most of our campus outreach and engagement in the form of events, cooking classes and educating students about nutrition and food insecurity. It has been my favorite experience at Cornell and one where I learned the most about how food systems work and how to best engage with people. 

I have also worked for Cornell Outdoor Education, serving as an Outdoor Odyssey pre-orientation trip guide, danced with Pandora Dance Troupe, and served as a CALS Ambassador. I also worked in Taryn Bauerle's Plant Ecophysiology and Root Ecology Lab for three years, and now work for Rachel Bezner-Kerr's development sociology research group. I am also a Cornell Tradition Fellow

What are your plans for the future?

I am taking my time finding the right job after graduation, but I am returning to the Northwest to be closer to family again. I hope to work for a food-based non-profit or in the produce industry. No matter where I go, I hope to work to create a more sustainable and equitable food system and use plant science and community engagement to make the world a better place. 

Any advice for future Plant Sciences majors?

I hope that they'll make the most of all Cornell has to offer -- clubs, new classes, travel, work experience -- all of it. Don't focus just on getting perfect grades. Focus on truly understanding the material and understanding how it fits in with what you care about.

Fuller was recognized for her academics, leadership, campus involvement, and community service with a 2019 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.