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ABE graduate student chosen as student trustee

“When I started in Purdue Agriculture as a freshman I never imagined I’d be returning to this school, seven years later, as a student trustee,” Mark Gee said.

Gee, who is pursuing his master’s degree in agricultural and biological engineering (ABE), was appointed as student member to the Purdue University Board of Trustees in June. In this role, Gee speaks for concerns most pressing to the student body and has an equal vote on all actions taken by the board.

A global pandemic and the largest freshman class ever at Purdue set an interesting stage for Gee’s first few months as a trustee. He is working to ensure he has a grasp on current student issues and presents them to the board in ways that effect change and improve student life.

“As an example, I was at a football game the other weekend and ended up talking to a woman in the ROTC program,” Gee said. “The biggest issue for her is access to parking. She’s busy, doesn’t always have time to hunt for a space and her life would be greatly improved by better access.

 ”Aside from day-to-day issues, Gee said he is providing the student perspective on issues Purdue and most universities are facing in the wake of COVID-19 and remote learning.

Mark Gee on greenhouse, plant on the back
Mark Gee

“What does education look like going forward from this? How do we build a semester that uses all we learned during the pandemic to give students more flexibility and balance,” Gee continued.

Another major topic Gee plans to work on during his three-year term is diversity, how to increase it at Purdue and how to ensure underrepresented students at the university feel supported. He thinks that the College of Agriculture has a lot to contribute in this area.

“My goal is to help support this initiative while relying on the life experience and professional expertise of others to lead the way,” Gee said. “When I think of Pamala Morris and all the excellent work done by the college’s Office of Multicultural Programs, I feel like they can be a shining example for the rest of the university.”

Serving as a student member allows Gee to give back to the university he feels gave so much to him, but it also affords him the opportunity to blend his interests in academia and industry.

Before returning to pursue his graduate degree, Gee spent two years as a research engineer for PowerPollen, an engineering company using cutting-edge technologies to enhance cross-pollination and increase agricultural productivity. Gee enjoyed the fast-paced innovation of the industry world and has gained more insight into business practices from his colleagues on the board.

“Everyone on the board is there because they love and believe in Purdue,” Gee continued. “And they all have a day job, many of them in industry, which means they’re able to add perspective and expertise that compliments Purdue’s academic mission and its reputation as a premier research institution and incubator for innovation.”

Outside of the boardroom, Gee is part of on some ground-breaking research himself. He works with agronomy professor Mitch Tuinstra and ABE assistant professor Jian Jin on predicting water content in plants using hyperspectral imaging. A major component of this research, Gee added, is building algorithms to analyze all the data that gets collected in a rapid and coherent manner.

“It’s like my role as student trustee. I have to try to gather as much information as possible and then condense and analyze in a way where we can draw some conclusions and, hopefully, take meaningful action.”

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