Proven Winners Names 2014 Scholarship Winners

Proven Winners Names 2014 Scholarship Winners

Looking to promote industry leaders of the future, Proven Winners has established a $15,000 scholarship program that awards students in three distinct areas:

  • The Proven Winners Innovations in Plant Breeding Scholarship – $5,000
  • The Proven Winners Innovations in Horticultural Marketing Scholarship – $5,000
  • The Proven Winners Grower Excellence Scholarship – $5,000

Learn more about Proven Winners’ $15,000 scholarship program and read on to learn about the 2014 Scholarship winners, James Keach, Katie Nickolaus and John Bryan Webber.


James Keach


James Keach

Keach is currently finishing his fourth year of his PhD study in Plant Breeding at Cornell University, with minors in Horticulture and International Agriculture. His research focuses on the impatiens genus. He is primarily looking for sources of resistance to downy mildew, and is attempting to get a grasp on the diversity the genus has to offer. This has involved  coordinating with private collectors, micro propagation, embryo rescue and some chemical assays. Keach says his goal is to provide gardeners with more options than the two or three commonly available species.

“James’ research project, Identifying, Characterizing, and Integrating Resistance from Wild Relatives Against the threat of Downy Mildew in Impatiens walleriana, is one of timely and utmost importance,” says Keach’s professor and director Mark Bridgen, “The issue that he is studying has recently had tremendous economic impact on the American agriculture industry. Two years ago, New York had approximately $10.4 million in sales of impatiens plants — one of the highest sales numbers in the United States. The downy mildew problem with impatiens threatens all of these sales. Not only is his subject area an important economic aspect for the greenhouse industry, but it is also an important consideration for homeowners.”

Keach says he has been interested in plants for as long as I can remember.

“My parents often remind me of when I was eight years old and attempted to cross-pollinate the paulownia tree in our front yard with the dandelions growing around it,” he says.

Keach says he feels that “one of the most beautiful, but also challenging things about horticulture, is there is so much potential within each aspect of the field. I see my role in cataloging and integrating genetic diversity to make the jobs of my peers easier and to explore the limits of what the plants can produce.”

Katie Nickolaus


Katie Nickolaus

Currently a student at Michigan State University, Nickolaus plans to graduate in the fall of 2014 with a B.S. in Horticulture. She has focused her studies at Michigan State to include a wide variety of classes within horticulture with a degree specialization in landscape design, build and maintenance.

She has been an active member of the Michigan State University Horticulture Club for four years, holding the office of Secretary for one of those years and the office of Vice President for another. This included the responsibility of holding a seat on the executive board of the Michigan Horticultural Education Foundation for two years. She competed at PLANET Student Career Days for three years in multiple events and has attended many green industry events. This summer Nickolaus was an AmericanHort Scholar and attended Cultivate ’14 in Columbus, Ohio.

In 2014, Nickolaus completed a second internship at Ball Horticultural Co. as a marketing intern, and last year interned with C. Raker and Sons in Litchfield, Mich. In both marketing internships, she used her computer skills to help convey marketing information electronically.

“My aspiring accomplishments aim to change the face of gardening,” Nickolaus says. “I see this as a classic marketing challenge: create, communicate and deliver value to the consumer. As I finish up my undergraduate education and pursue a career within horticulture I know I will be looking for a path toward horticultural marketing. This idea started as a challenge and has developed into a passionate starting career.”

John Bryan Webber

John Bryan Webber

John Bryan Webber

Webber is currently completing his junior year at the University of Missouri in Columbia with a degree in Plant Science with an emphasis area in Horticultural Sciences. His targeted date for graduation is May 2016. Long term, Webber’s goal is to create unique ornamental varieties of plants that will be easier to propagate and more durable within a landscape. During his time at the University of Missouri, he says he has enjoyed seeing first-hand how plants can be manipulated through horticulture.

In 2014, Webber worked full-time at the University of Missouri’s Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) under Dr. Mark Coggeshall, a professor and tree improvement specialist. HARC’s goal is to improve several species in the juglans genus  for timber and nut production, to phenotype the leaf morphology of Quercus rubra for further application through an NSF sponsored project, to create improved varieties of other woody plant species for ornamental value and to explore many other projects for plant improvement. Through Coggeshall’s work, Webber says he is learning how observations can be made in order to manipulate plants through cultivation and genetics.

Webber says he plans to use these observations as the building blocks in creating unique varieties of plants, as well as plants that are easier to propagate and better suited for a landscape. These better-suited plants would ensure that landscapes look better for longer period of time than current varieties, and would require less maintenance to do so.

“In my free time, I experiment with propagating various trees and shrubs in containers on my porch,” Webber says. “After creating my own small-scale, misting propagation bench, I have successfully cultivated more than 20 different species from seeds and softwood cuttings. I have found that growing plants provides me fulfillment unlike anything else I have done.”

Learn more about Proven Winners’ $15,000 scholarship program.

Source: Proven Winners