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Green thumb points the way to true calling

Maddy Schaider looked around her lonely freshman dorm room at Valparaiso University saw the stack of engineering books and thought to herself, “I need a change of scenery.”

She felt like something was missing. With that thought she went to the store to pick out some houseplants to make her dorm feel more like home. While wandering through the tomato plants and snake plants, Schaider began to think how much she loved plants. Little did she know, this trip to the plant store would lead her to rethink her career and help her discover her passion in life: plant science.

“I never knew I had a green thumb until then,” said Schaider, now a senior plant science major at Purdue from Lindenhurst, Illinois.

Maddy Schaider in the greenhouse Maddy Schaider, a senior plant science major from Lindenhurst, Illinois, enjoys watching her hard work come to life in the grow rooms where she raises plants. Photo by Raymie Shoop.

After picking out her plants for her room, Schaider said she spent most of her free time researching how to take better care of them and looking for what plants she was going to buy next.

“My curiosity was becoming an obsession,” she said.

That obsession led her right to Purdue. Schaider began to reevaluate her studies. When she listened to her heart, she said she realized engineering was no longer for her, so she began to view her green thumb as her gateway to the future. But she was a little lost, at first.

“I didn’t grow up in an agricultural area,” she said. “We saw cornfields occasionally, but I hadn’t thought about pursuing agriculture as a career before.”

She started researching different majors and universities that would better suit her passion for plants. Having never taken an agriculture course in her life, Schaider packed up her plants and began the transfer process to Purdue.

“Being a transfer student can be a very confusing time,” she said. “I felt like I wanted more information all of the time and was trying to understand the new university. My department was so helpful and inviting.”

She also found it very helpful to go to club meetings to make friends and connections. Those groups also were important, because they helped her connect with people outside her major.

Over time, Schaider adjusted — so much so that she said she now considers the greenhouses her second home. Purdue has opened her eyes to so much that she didn’t know existed, she said.

One of those things is her love for research. She has investigated how one gene will determine how a greenhouse plant lives or dies, while wild plants will find ways to live with that gene. She loved the work so much, that she will start working on a doctoral degree next fall at Purdue.

Schaider said she invests all her time in the lab preparing for her doctorate and future career. She said she enjoys asking questions and seeing her work evolve into data and answers. Outside the lab, Schaider had internships with Corteva Agriscience and the USDA, which taught her more about the science she loves.

Part of what makes Purdue so special is how close she has become to other students.

“Plant science has less than 50 undergraduate students in it, so we all become friends,” Schaider said. “We are all in the same classes and we all go to the same plant stores at the end of the day. I feel very close with my advisor and the students in my major. Everyone in the College of Agriculture seems to be a really hard worker and always willing to help you.”

For those who wonder about whether they are studying the right thing in college, Schaider advises them to be brave enough to ask questions.

“The staff is all there to help you, but I am introverted, and it can be difficult to ask for help at times. Purdue staff has helped me to branch out and discover what I really love by asking questions.”

Find out more

Purdue Botany and Plant Pathology

Corteva Agriscience

USDA

Apply to Purdue

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Raymie Shoop is a student writer majoring in agricultural communication in Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication

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