Seed World

Why Mentorship is the Key to Plant Breeding’s Future

Welcome to a special podcast preview where we delve into the world of plant breeding, mentorship, and the Borlaug Scholars Program. Editor Marc Zienkiewicz recently attended the National Association of Plant Breeders’ annual meeting in Greenville, South Carolina, and had the opportunity to sit down with two remarkable individuals — one who founded the NAPB’s Borlaug Scholars program and one who inspired it.

We interviewed Borlaug Scholarship program founder Donn Cummings, along with Ana María Heilman, director of the AES Big Data Pipeline Unit at North Dakota State University.

Heilman is a former mentee of Cummings’ and the current secretary for the Borlaug Scholars Committee. Together we discussed mentorship, the value of the Borlaug scholarship, and the program’s bright future.

We started by discussing the mentor-mentee relationship between the pair, tracing back to their first meeting in 2012. Heilman shares her memories of that initial encounter and the significant impact Cummings had on her career. His guidance opened up new career paths and hidden talents for her, which she deeply appreciates.

Cummings founded the Borlaug Scholars Program in 2018, and it has been growing steadily ever since. But why is this program so valuable? Heilman, being a member of the Borlaug Scholars Committee, sheds light on the importance of mentorship. She highlights how having a mentor can help young professionals share ideas, gain new perspectives, and ultimately make informed career choices.

As for the future of the Borlaug Scholars Program, Cummings emphasizes the role of mentoring in a rapidly changing world. He believes that the program’s commitment to improving plants to improve lives is a driving force for attracting young talent to plant breeding. Both mentors and mentees benefit from this relationship, making it essential to the future of mankind and the field of plant breeding.