The Mary J.L. McDonald Fund was established in 1927 and was used to set up the James Monroe McDonald Scholarships for educational purposes related to agricultural and horticultural research. Funds from the McDonald Endowment are used to provide Graduate Student Research (GSR) fellowships in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.
GSRs are awarded for two years to M.S. students, and four years to Ph.D. students. Funding from the UC ANR-managed McDonald Endowment is matched by the students’ supervisors. Graduate students are also able to generate additional funding from granting agencies. On average, about $319,000 is used annually through the McDonald Endowment, and an equal amount, or higher, from the graduate student supervisors as matching funds. This funding helps support approximately 17 graduate students each year.
Student scholarships such as this are critical to the academic success and future careers of many graduate students, and the students are grateful for the financial support.
Profiled here are three current graduate students (Johnny Campbell, Kelsey DeRose, Gabe La Hue) and three former students (Whitney Brim-DeForest, Mark Lundy, Katherine Pope) who were McDonald Endowment recipients, through GSR fellowships, in Plant Sciences.
“As a master’s degree graduate student at UC Davis, I study nutrient management in rice systems,” said Campbell. “I work to help improve our understanding of important soil-nutrient interactions that can greatly affect the ability of our soils to produce food. California rice is an important global commodity, and growers need information on producing it more sustainably and economically.”
The GSR fellowship Campbell received through the McDonald Scholarship is important because it allows him to be fully engrossed in and focused on his studies, without the struggle of concurrently working to fund his graduate studies.
“When I finish my degree I plan to work in agriculture education and extension,” said Campbell. “I have taught college-level agricultural science and I plan to continue to teach at the community college level, or in some other way work in agricultural education and extension.”
As a master’s degree student at UC Davis, DeRose is focusing on balancing ecological and agricultural production outcomes provided by riparian areas on public grazing allotments. The project involves an observational field study of riparian conditions in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges in California, as well as an analysis of existing research to gauge effectiveness of riparian grazing management practices.
DeRose plans to accomplish this through collaboration with UC Davis faculty, UC Cooperative Extension, the U.S. Forest Service, and local stakeholders. Her goal is to provide hands-on internship opportunities in research (field and laboratory) and extension for UC Davis undergraduates interested in rangeland science.
“The McDonald Scholarship is very important to me because it has given me the opportunity to pursue an M.S. degree and further my career, and to introduce undergraduate students to rangeland science,” said DeRose. “When I graduate, I’m interested in working with an organization such as Cooperative Extension, or a government agency, such as the Forest Service or NRCS, where I can work on current conservation issues and develop scientific results that will have direct effects on land management, policy, and future research.”
La Hue’s work revolves around water management in California rice production. One of his first publications as a graduate student demonstrated that alternative water management can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from rice fields without impacting grain yield. His current research seeks to quantify water flows beneath the soil surface and understand how they may impact the water input requirements for rice production.
“Support from the McDonald Scholarship has been vital to me as first an M.S. and now a Ph.D. student,” said La Hue. “It has allowed me to focus on producing high quality research for the benefit of California agriculture while avoiding taking on significant student debt.”
After finishing his degree, Le Hue hopes to secure a job at a university where he can combine his interests in teaching, applied agricultural research, and extension work.
Whitney Brim-DeForest is a UC Cooperative Extension rice advisor, serving Sutter, Yuba, Placer and Sacramento counties. She works with commercial rice and wild rice growers on research and extension related to rice production in California.
“As a Ph.D. student in the Horticulture and Agronomy graduate group at UC Davis, I studied under Dr. Albert Fischer on weed management in rice,” said Brim-DeForest. “Under his direction, I managed the UC Weed Science Trials at the Rice Experiment Station in Biggs, California, where I gained hands-on experience in California rice production.”
As a graduate student, the McDonald Scholarship gave Brim-DeForest the freedom to pursue her dissertation research full-time, and at the same time, gain valuable experience in the field that helped her pursue a career in Cooperative Extension.
Lundy is a Cooperative Extension Specialist at UC Davis, with statewide responsibilities for applied research and extension related to California grain cropping systems. He leverages existing knowledge and emerging technology to solve practical problems; he produces outcomes that inform both production and environmental concerns; and he communicates these outcomes in farmer-accessible formats to the broader scientific community. Prior to this position, Lundy was a Cooperative Extension agronomy advisor serving Colusa, Sutter, and Yuba counties, providing agronomic expertise on a wide range of annual crops.
“I earned my master’s in International Agricultural Development in 2010 and my doctorate in Horticulture and Agronomy in 2013, both from UC Davis,” said Lundy. “My research focused on developing practical nutrient and weed management strategies and creating innovative extension tools for improved on-farm management in California rice systems.
“The McDonald Scholarship enabled me to pursue applied research questions pertinent to California agroecosystems, ground my understanding of agricultural systems in wide-ranging coursework at UC Davis, and forge connections within a network of applied agricultural scientists and extension agents in the UC system and beyond. The training I received at UC Davis is invaluable to the applied research and extension work I do today.”
“As a farm advisor for UC Cooperative Extension, I work with almond, prune, and walnut growers to apply UC research to solve important problems with pests, diseases, fertilizer and water use,” said Pope. She works for UC ANR with growers in Sacramento, Yolo, and Solano counties.
Pope received her Ph.D. (Horticulture and Agronomy) and M.S. (International Agricultural Development) degrees in Plant Sciences at UC Davis. She studied how almonds, pistachios and walnuts respond to different temperatures in the winter. Warmer temperatures in the winter can impact the time of bloom in the spring, and how many flowers will be in good enough condition to turn into nuts farmers can harvest.
“As a graduate student, the McDonald Scholarship was very important because it allowed me to focus on my research and field training to work at the intersection of research and the farmers who use it,” said Pope. “I never wanted to be a professor or teach in a classroom setting, so this support meant I didn’t have to spend time as a teaching assistant, training for a job I never intended to have.”
Funding for graduate student support is in partnership with ANR through the McDonald endowment.