Global Faculty Fellow will create connections between Penn State and Colombia

November 06, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Siela Maximova, research professor of plant biotechnology, has been named a Global Faculty Fellow in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and a Land Grant University U.S.-Colombia Fulbright Scholar.

Siela Maximova

Siela Maximova, professor of horticulture in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State.

IMAGE: Penn State

“As a Global Faculty Fellow, my focus will be to create institutional linkages between Penn State and institutions in Colombia,” Maximova said. “We will continue our work with the cacao sector but also expand our activities and promote Penn State’s initiative in water, energy and food. This approach to agriculture and development is pivotal to sustainability and building of healthy communities, and in the case of Colombia, it will contribute to the peace process.”

Maximova, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees in agricultural engineering and horticulture from the Agricultural University, Plovdiv, Bulgaria; and a doctoral degree in plant physiology from Penn State, studies methods to improve Theobroma cacao L., the chocolate tree.

Her main research is focused on generating new knowledge and technologies for improvement of the cacao crop and product quality. Along with Mark Guiltinan, J. Franklin Styer Professor of Horticultural Botany, Maximova co-directs the Endowed Program for the Molecular Biology of Cacao at Penn State, established by the American Cocoa Research Institute in 1986. For more than 20 years as a team, Guiltinan and Maximova have spearheaded numerous international projects with global impact on agriculture.

For the last four years, Maximova has led Penn State's participation in the Cacao for Peace project in Colombia and the Center for Innovation of Cacao in Peru, with the goal to increase productivity and quality of cacao that will contribute to political stabilization, job creation and rural economic development in both countries. Cacao for Peace is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Under this project, multidisciplinary, student-faculty teams conduct research in plant genetics, soils, and food and social sciences and train farmers and Peace Corps volunteers in Colombia. Penn State also has hosted young professionals as Cochran and Borlaug Fellows.

The Cacao for Peace approach of integrating research, educational and technical capabilities of U.S., Colombian and international institutions was featured as an example of innovation in international graduate education in October at the Conference of the Americas on International Education in Bogota, Colombia.

There, Maximova and Alejandro Gil, a Fulbright grantee and a Penn State doctoral student, participated in a panel discussion with representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

“Of great importance is training the next generation of scientists who will carry on this work and contribute to their countries and the global community,” Maximova said. “My students come away from these experiences with knowledge they could not obtain in the classroom. These projects expand their learning of socioeconomic, cultural and technical issues that will serve them moving forward.”

As a recent recipient of a William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Award and current chair of the Land Grant University-Colombia consortium, Maximova’s goals are to strengthen the research and educational collaborations among Penn State, other U.S. universities and Colombian institutions.

In Colombia, she works closely with the offices of Cultural Affairs and Foreign Agricultural Service at the U.S. Embassy, the University of Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano, the University of Antioquia in Medellin and the Colombian Agricultural Research Corporation (Agrosavia).

“We have challenging goals that will require coordinated efforts and the integration of engineering, natural and social sciences,” Maximova said. “Successful projects will help rural communities to adopt sustainable practices to produce energy, food and clean water and to preserve the environment and their cultures. I think this will also make them more resistant to violence.”

Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Office of International Programs, lauded Maximova for her commitment to elevating the quality of life for people not only in Colombia, but around the globe.

“We are excited to have Siela’s expertise and energy applied to our international research and outreach endeavor,” Behring said. “She has a formidable network of colleagues around the world stemming from her own research programs, and we are grateful she is willing to share those with the college and the University to build additional programmatic initiatives.” 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 11, 2019