Greenhouse job cultivates opportunities

By Aubrey Brutus

Joe Atha, a senior sustainable agronomic systems: agronomic management major from Oxford, Indiana, is a technician in the greenhouse complex in the Purdue Lilly Hall of Life Sciences.

Photo by Aubrey Brutus

​Joe Atha, a senior sustainable agronomic systems: agronomic management major from Oxford, Indiana, is a technician in the greenhouse complex in the Purdue Lilly Hall of Life Sciences. ​Full-size image (4447 KB)


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​Inside the life science greenhouse complex in Purdue's Lilly Hall the smells of soil and plants saturate the humid air. To Joe Atha, a senior sustainable agronomic systems: agronomic management major from Oxford, Indiana, it smells like opportunities.

​"Working in the greenhouse has given me a chance to work in an atmosphere full of professionals and begin to build a network base that could end up helping me even after graduation," Atha said.

​Atha is a greenhouse technician, which means he prepares soils, applies pesticides to plants and helps maintain the 54,000-square foot, 57-room greenhouse facility. This hands-on work has provided a valuable learning experience, Atha said. The experience has also cultivated Atha's curiosity about the more theoretical aspects of the work.

​"I like picking the minds of the researchers to get some insight on what's going on currently and what I can expect in the future," he said.

​The work also helped him learn more about plant science. When he wasn't taking out the trash or fixing lights, he was preparing plants for classes. And he enjoyed exploring the roots of those lessons.

​"I sometimes like to quiz myself on the plants that my peers will be tested on just to see if I can do it, too," he said.

​Atha also has blossomed into a source of knowledge for his peers. Members of the Agronomy Club wasted no time taking advantage of Atha's unique skills and experience — he was elected president of the student organization after only one year as a member.

​"You couldn't have picked a better person to talk to, because Joe is a great source of information," said Cody Hornaday, a junior sustainable agronomic systems major from Loogootee, Indiana, and vice president of the club.

​While he works a lot of hours in the greenhouse, Atha said that he's motivated by a strong work ethic. If you learn quickly and work hard, people will remember your name at the right times, he said.

​"Whenever an opportunity opens up, I always want people to think, ‘Joe would be great for this job!'" Atha said.

​What began as a just a greenhouse job has evolved into an opportunity to explore different aspects of agriculture. He even credits his greenhouse work for helping him dig up professional opportunities, including a sales and marketing internship with Helena Chemical Company.

​"My internships have allowed me to take what I've learned in class and apply it to real life," Atha said.

​Of course, it helps that Atha has a clear sense of where he wants to go.

​"I know what I want and I won't stop at anything until I get there," said Atha. ​

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