Seed World

Harness the Power of Mentorship by Supporting Young Scientists

When Kevin Falk met Dave Bubeck at the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) meeting in 2018, his career went in a whole new direction.

It was the year that Falk, who hails from the Canadian province of Manitoba, was a recipient of the NAPB Borlaug Scholarship, which strengthens the plant breeding profession by helping support attendance of future leaders at the NAPB annual meeting. At the time, Falk was a PhD student at Iowa State University.

Scholars are paired with a mentor who helps them explore their career options and learn more about areas of the industry they want to get involved in. Bubeck works as research director — seed product development for the Corteva Agriscience seed commercialization team in Iowa, and the two had a chance to talk about their respective experiences and what Falk might want to do upon completing his degree.

Falk soon found himself back home in Canada with a newly-completed PhD and trying to decide what to do next.

“I was looking for my first job and an opening came up at Corteva and and I thought, ‘Wow, this could be a really good fit for me, but I don’t really know anyone there. How about I talk to Dave?'” Falk says.

That’s when the value of having been a Borlaug Scholar really became clear.

“I sent David an email and he replied right away. He connected me to the Corteva hiring manager, and within like half an hour I got a response and I was well on my way. He was definitely instrumental to me applying and getting the role that I have now.”

After the NAPB meeting in 2018, the two kept in touch and had monthly conversations. Falk was able to use the skills acquired during his PhD to build a personal brand. He won the American Seed Trade Association’s Better Seeds for a Better Life Student Video Contest grand prize in 2018 and again the following year. In 2019 he earned the Iowa State University Graduate and Professional Student Senate Research Award.

He was hired by Corteva in August of 2019 and will soon celebrate his third anniversary with the company.

“Here we are four years later after I became a Borlaug scholar and I still consider Dave to be my mentor, and I don’t see it stopping any time soon. We’re always chatting with one another and seeing each other in meetings. It’s been hugely valuable to me,” Falk says.

As a sponsor of the scholarship, Corteva sees the value in mentoring the next generation of plant scientists, Bubeck says, as the industry enters a challenging time where new technology is helping Corteva do things it’s never been able to do, but at the same time needs new ideas to ensure those innovations are accepted by end users.

“Time weighs heavy on any organization, and it really becomes important that we hire new talent. We’re in an age of not just GMOs, but genome editing and other future plant breeding innovations, and driving technology acceptance among consumers is paramount,” Bubeck says.

“NAPB does a great job at identifying the graduate students that are the best of the best. Being a mentor to these students has been a great experience for me.”

Falk and Bubeck sat down with Seed World to talk about why the Borlaug Scholaship is so valuable and why organizations within the ag sector should consider coming on as sponsors. Listen by playing the video above and hear their insights, including info on this year’s in-person NAPB meeting taking place in August in Ames, Iowa.

For info on the Borlaug Scholars program visit the NAPB website.

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