WSU student lands FFAR Fellowship to support viticulture research, professional development

Horticulture doctoral candidate Alexa McDaniel has been awarded a Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) Fellowship, which will support her growth as a leader and professional, while fostering the connection between WSU and the Washington wine industry.

“This fellowship helps give me resources and training to find a job in research after I graduate,” she said.

A brunette woman in a grey shirt and jeans smiles aboard a blue tractor in front of a vineyard.
Horticulture doctoral candidate Alexa McDaniel’s work in viticulture focuses on pest management.

McDaniel was motivated to apply for the fellowship because of her interest in helping the future of agriculture and sustainability. She will take part in fellowship duties as she continues with her PhD.

Growing up in Kennewick, Wash., McDaniel worked in restaurants that served many local wines, and was also employed as a tasting room manager at Alexandria Nicole Cellars in Prosser.

In her undergraduate work, McDaniel surveyed restored lands around crop systems and was fascinated by the ways the insects interacted with the environment. This spurred McDaniel’s interest in studying insect pests and their effect on vine growth.

“There have to be more options out there than just using chemicals,” she said. “There are so many beneficial insects that will actually do the job of pest management.”

“I am excited that Lexie will get this opportunity to stretch her leadership muscles and engage with the Washington Wine Commission,” said Michelle Moyer, associate professor in WSU’s Viticulture & Enology Program and the Department of Horticulture.

Although graduate students need to focus on academics and research, it can often come at the cost of practical training for career readiness.

“This fellowship will help supplement the research and extension training Lexie is getting at WSU,” Moyer said.

FFAR connects funders, researchers and farmers through public-private partnerships to support research addressing the biggest food and agriculture challenges. The Foundation funds scientific workforce development fellowships like McDaniel’s, so graduate students can take part in professional development and leadership training before they graduate.

“Our FFAR Fellows Program pairs students with industry mentors who provide career guidance,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “At FFAR we are committed to developing the scientific workforce to tackle some of food and agriculture’s biggest challenges. This mentorship equips students with the skills needed to facilitate their transition to the workforce and prepares future food and agriculture leaders.”

McDaniel said one of the appeals of the fellowship was the chance for being paired with a mentor from the wine industry.

“The idea for fellows is to learn and understand what kind of research the industry needs, and what kind of careers would be available to researchers,” she said.

She is also looking forward to working with the Washington State Wine Commission, another aspect of the fellowship. The wine commission sees value in helping to train the next generation of researchers, said Melissa Hansen, the commission’s research program director.

“We’re excited to sponsor and be a mentor to Lexie, a home-grown student who is already working to solve industry pest problems, like powdery mildew,” she said.

Throughout the season, McDaniel will connect with wine grape growers and winemakers who use WSU research in their vineyard and winemaking practices. She will assist with planning events to disseminate research findings, which will help her understand the connection between research and application and the need for practicality and timely results, Hansen said.

“Professional development skills are ones I feel always need to be polished, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do so,” McDaniel said.

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