April 2019: Past NHF Scholarship Recipient Highlight – Erin Alvarez

The National Horticulture Foundation (NHF) has been awarding scholarships annually to deserving students throughout Florida and across the country since the creation of its scholarship programs in 1997. Funds have been used to provide financial means for students to pursue careers in horticulture or related fields. NHF believes students should receive a quality education at an affordable price, so the foundation continues to carve those pathways…one student at a time!

In this new, ongoing series of upcoming blog posts, we would like to highlight a few of the past recipients and see what they are up to!

Meet Erin Alvarez. 

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Erin Alvarez teaches Plant Propagation and related courses for both the Environmental Horticulture and Plant Science degree programs at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Erin’s teaching program focuses on sustainable plant production and use, along with people-plant interactions. Erin also manages the Fifield Foodscape teaching and demonstration gardens.

A native Floridian, Erin comes from a family of gardeners. From the time she could walk, Erin remembers her mother’s garden filled with tulips and ornamental plants. Erin remembers herself at the age of five seeing her first vegetable garden while visiting family in Illinois — and thinking it was a picture out of a book, or maybe the site for the next PBS “Victory Gardens.” It’s obvious gardening runs through Erin’s blood, as she recalls her family’s tradition of planting a tree every time a child in the family was born. Remembering it now, Erin chuckles as she recalls hers was an invasive Golden Rain Tree. 

In spite of her strong family connection to horticulture, Erin hadn’t thought of horticulture as a career…it was just part of her upbringing and family traditions. While an English major working at the student newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, Erin found some of her happiest moments were clean-up days at the office when she would get to go outside and pull weeds. It was in these moment, Erin says, she felt there was just something missing. 

Inspired by her mom, Erin set out to receive a second bachelor’s degree in Environmental Horticulture. “It was not until my mother returned to school in her late forties to study landscape design that I considered working with plants as a career path rather than a hobby,” says Alvarez. “I needed plants. I thought it was animals, but once I got into horticulture, there was no turning back.”

In 2004, Erin received her Bachelor of Science degree in interdisciplinary studies and public gardens management from UF, followed by a Master of Science degree in plant science in 2006. After graduating, Erin accepted a lecturer position in the Department of Environmental Horticulture at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).  As part of this new career journey, Erin was afforded the chance to work in the industry as a landscape designer, spent time in a retail garden center and serve as a County Extension Agent. Eventually, Erin’s roads lead her back to campus, teaching students.

Watch Now: Erin Alvarez explains why she became interested in science; particularly horticulture and people-plant interactions.

As a teacher, Erin wants her students to develop their own spark and curiosity — along with a passion for plants. Erin says she strives to break through what she calls the “plant blindness barrier,” an unofficial name those in the industry refer to when talking about how people sometimes neglect to notice plants and landscapes in their everyday surroundings. Erin wants to get students interested in how plants relate to their research and degree interests.

Also, through her current role as faculty adviser for the student Environmental Horticulture Club, Erin encourages students to ask lot of questions and take on leadership roles. Being in this position has given Erin to interact personally with students, serving as guidepost and cheerleader — a role fills her with pride to see, firsthand, the future leaders they are becoming.

When asked what she would tell NHF donors about the impact scholarships have on students, Erin said it was more than just about the money. Being a self-funded student working her way through school, it was a tremendous help but through industry support, not only is NHF opening doors for students, it is building a culture which enables them to become industry leaders and professionals. The opportunity also sets a tone for students to gain a sense of future responsibility when they are in the industry.

NHF dollars are making a difference in many students’ lives. 

There is so much more to the horticulture industry than simply plants. It is a community with passion about plants, research and technology. And, most importantly, it is about the good people.

Learn more on how you can become a part of championing the horticulture leaders of tomorrow.