For soil and crop sciences major Patricia Vail, cultivating relationships and community – as well as plants – allowed her to grow into a leader and outstanding graduate and find a seat at the table in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University.
“CSU is a large university with a lot of resources, but to utilize those resources best, it felt essential to have personal connections in the halls of plant science to give me some direction,” says Vail. “The Soil and Crop Sciences Department in the college of Ag felt very intimate. I was able to get a feel for all of the research happening and how each overlaps another and are important to the goals of a sustainable future.”
Vail, from Denver, originally started college 15 years ago. But when she was 23, her mom died of cancer, and Vail said she entered a difficult period of her life. After a few years of being detached from the world, she experienced what she called “a gift of desperation,” and decided to turn her life around, build a network of support, and recreate herself.
“It was after this point I knew I had a lot of potential,” the first-generation college student said. “Once I was able to find resiliency in the face of my past challenges, I began to realize all that I was capable of.”
Assessing her interests and abilities, Vail decided to attend Front Range Community College and study horticulture. Two years later, she transferred to CSU’s soil and crop sciences major, with a focus in plant genetics and biotechnology. This month she is graduating with summa cum laude distinction. She said she knows everybody who is graduating with her, highlighting the relationships she’s gained during college.
Since coming to CSU, Vail has gained research fellowship experience in a plant genetics lab sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“During Patty’s time at CSU, I have seen her develop into a sincerely curious and excellent scientist,” said Addy Elliott, assistant dean in the College of Agricultural Sciences and one of Vail’s mentors. “Patty’s academic success is notable and she is always sincerely friendly, kind and curious.”
With the plan of going to graduate school next, Vail’s research work has inspired her to continue in the field of scientific communication. She hopes to be a liaison between scientists, policy-makers and the public.
Vail knows her story of growth and success was aided by her support network at CSU.
“I’m 38 years old and graduating college,” she said. “I know all my advisors by name, and they know me. The halls are very cozy… I’ll be sad once my RamCard stops working.”