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Graduate student one of only 10 women in the world to receive special invite to summer workshop in Russia

August 17, 2010

Pink hair is not something you see on a college campus every day. Pink hair among scientists gathered in Russia? Even more atypical. But, then again, graduate student, Victoria "Tori" Valdez, isn't your typical student or scientist.

Prestigious workshop and conference in St. Petersburg

Tori Valdez in front of the Hermitage, the former Russian Winter Palace.

Valdez recently returned from a prestigious trip to Russia on scholarship to the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Technical Workshop and the 8th International Wheat Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was only one of 10 women in the world who received a special invitation to the workshop and conference.

Below, she gives her account of the unique trip and the journey that led her there.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

A. Graduating Summa Cum Laude from Colorado State University–Pueblo, I obtained a B.S. in Biology with emphasis on cellular and molecular botany and a minor in chemistry in 2008.

I wanted to continue my education in plant sciences, but stay here in Colorado. After meeting with several professors, I was offered a United States Department of Agriculture National Needs Fellowship to study plant breeding and genetics with Professors Scott Haley and Nora Lapitan at Colorado State University, which I began in the fall of 2008. 

My research has been focused on identifying durable Russian wheat aphid resistance in winter wheat using breeding, genetics, and genomics approaches.

Q. How did you learn you had received this prestigious award?

A. Actually, after applying for this award, I was informed that due to the exceptionally high number of applicants, only five women were selected, and I was not one of them. However, since the applicant pool included so many talented young women, the collaborative foundations wanted to bring more women to the joint conference.

With the help of Monsanto, the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative was able to provide awards to five additional women scientists. I was one of the lucky women to be given this award. Of the 10 women funded to attend the conferences, only two were from the United States (including me), so this was quite an honor.

Q. It sounds like this was truly an international educational experience both in location and diversity. What did you learn through this experience?

Valdez explains the contents of her poster to Miguel Sanchez from Spain during the 8th International Wheat Conference poster session.

A. I learned how the world can be unified by the challenge of a lofty common goal…and what goal could be better than trying to improve yields of one of the most important food crops to help feed the world? No matter their place of origin, the research purpose was the same. It was interesting to hear what agricultural issues each country or region was challenged with and the different molecular, breeding, and farm management solutions they were using to help combat these issues.

One of the take home messages I received from this conference was a sense of urgency to find solutions to the challenges of wheat production, mainly biotic stresses such as the rusts and aphids, abiotic stresses like drought, heat, and nutrient accumulation, and the efficiency with which education of proper farm management practices are reaching the people who need it the most.  It truly was an extraordinary opportunity for me and I will never forget it.

Q. What are your future career goals?

A. I will be defending my Master’s thesis this fall and beginning my Ph.D. in the Spring of 2011. I will continue working on pest/pathogen resistance with my wonderful and supportive advisors, Scott Haley and Nora Lapitan. It will still entail Russian wheat aphid work, but also extend to other pathogens and insects as well. 

I’m not sure which career path I will take upon completion of the Ph.D., but I would like to continue doing research on food crops; it is an area of great need and the work is rewarding.

Full story

Excerpt from original story by Katie Boeder and published in the College of Agricultural Sciences E-Connection newsletter, Summer 2010.