Student Stories: Plant science major's family tradition spawns career goal

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Years ago, young Sara Getson ventured into the woods with her father, hunting for the stout, honey-colored mushroom that is her family's favorite. They searched for the aptly named honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea) not just for fun, but to pick, can and sauté them with butter and onions for dinner.

A mushroom hunter needs to be experienced and trained, because one easily can mistake a poisonous mushroom for an edible mushroom. Luckily, Getson comes from a long line of mushroom hunters.

"My great-grandfather picked mushrooms back in his native country of Lithuania and taught his son what he knew. The knowledge about mushrooms has been passed down through the generations, and now here I am!" she said, laughing.

Getson's unique family tradition of mushroom hunting inspired her passion for plants and her dream for a career in the field of plant science. The State College native has a double major in plant sciences and French, with a minor in plant pathology.

Even though her passion for mushrooms began at a young age, there was still a lot for Getson to do to decide on a major. "I took a fun class my freshman year called "Fungal Jungle," which helped me learn I could actually study what I was interested in," she said. She got into the plant sciences major in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, and the rest is history.

This past summer, Getson took a graduate class, "Plant Disease Diagnosis," in which she learned how to diagnose plant diseases with an emphasis on fungi. "It was fun to be with graduate students who are so passionate about the subject, like I am. I really hope to go on to graduate school to study plant pathology, either at Penn State or elsewhere," she said.

In her free time, Getson cultivates shiitake mushrooms with her friends using homemade synthetic logs. "It's a whole process," she explained. "We started in March making the synthetic logs out of a mixture of sawdust and a nutrient source. Then, we mixed shiitake mushroom spawn into the logs, waited, and voila! We had our own shiitakes."

Getson is a shining example of how an individual with just the right determination and enthusiasm for a subject can take a beloved pastime and make it into a career goal.

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Last Updated November 09, 2015