Li Cheng

After completing a bachelor's in biology, Ellen Holste (Forestry, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior, ESPP) put her education to practice and joined the Peace Corps. She traveled to Guatemala, where, among other duties, she established vegetable gardens and greenhouses, developed environmental education programs, helped with tree regeneration and maintained a medicinal garden. "The Peace Corps in Guatemala got me interested in sustainable agriculture" and how its practices intersect with families and school communities, she says. And it was during her three-year stay that she developed an interest in sustainable plant growth—especially as it relates to tropical regions.

Upon her return from Guatemala, Holste decided to return to academia. But on one condition: "If I was going to go back in academia, I wanted to make sure it was semi-applicable" to people's practical needs, she explains. This requirement eventually led her to MSU's forestry department—a program that has allowed her to focus on the broader impacts of forestry, and not just its relation to environmental science.

As part of the program, Holste is again traveling to Central America, but this time she's restoring degraded lands deficient in soil nutrients by planting trees and using mycorrhizae, a fungus that helps trees take up nutrients, to aid in their growth and survival. As part of this research, Holste also works with local residents to help them understand and encourage the fungus' and tree growth.

Now, in her second year as a Ph.D. student, Holste joins ESPP with an interest in integrating basic science with the knowledge of how to apply it. For now, her career goals aren't focused on academia, but more on how her work can connect with the needs of communities. "What do people want and need?" she asks. "[And] what research do we need to do?" In asking these questions, Holste is looking to use her research to develop the policies to meet these needs. "[This is] where I feel I can do the most good," she says.