Meet the Kathy L. Chan Greenhouse Staff

The beautiful, high-tech Kathy L. Chan Greenhouse is a game-changer for the plant genetics faculty at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. While there are many advanced features that help the plants grow and thrive, it is up to three talented individuals to manage the day-to-day operations of the greenhouse. Let’s meet the Kathy L. Chan Greenhouse staff and learn more about their contributions to the plant genetics research going on at HudsonAlpha.

Jason Bunn – Greenhouse Manager 

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from? What brought you to HudsonAlpha? 

I’m a native of Huntsville. I studied at Auburn University and Athens State University. I graduated from Athens State University with a bachelor’s in biology and a minor in marine biology. I was drawn to HudsonAlpha because of my interest in sustainable agriculture and using genomics to improve the efficiency and productivity of current agricultural practices. Also, the opportunity to work at one of the country’s premier research and development companies excited me.

How did you become interested in plants/horticulture? 

I became interested in plants/horticulture when I took a plant systematics class at Auburn University. I really enjoyed learning taxonomy and the evolutionary history of plant life. 

Can you describe an average day in the greenhouse? 

The very first thing we do in the mornings is plant care and equipment checks in all of the rooms. We check to make sure the plants are watered properly, look for nutrient deficiencies, check for fungus, disease, and pest pressure, check plants for harvest, and check to see if any seedlings are ready to plant. We also ensure all equipment (lights, water walls, humidifiers, and exhaust fans) and the environmental conditions (photosynthetic active radiation (PAR), temperature, and humidity) are working and accurate. 

After checks, we clean rooms, apply fertilizers, spray for fungus or pests, harvest, plant, and coordinate with lab members from the labs on current experiments and upcoming experiments. We also order supplies, give tours of the greenhouse occasionally, and work in the research field during the spring, summer, and fall.

What is your favorite part of your job? 

I enjoy working with a wide variety of different plant species, educating the public about our research, and being a part of the research that the plant genetics department is conducting.

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of the greenhouse? 

My hobbies include fishing, camping, gardening, cooking, and spending time with my family.

Selina Pittman – Greenhouse & Field Research Associate 

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from? What brought you to HudsonAlpha? 

I grew up in the small town of Scottsboro. I moved to Huntsville in 2006 and studied Biology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. My work experience includes almost 15 years at a retail greenhouse, where I was the lead grower for the last 4 of those years. For some time, I was interested in the work at HudsonAlpha. When my friend and former co-worker Jason Bunn reached out to let me know there was a position open in the plant genetics department, I applied and was asked to join the team in the Spring of 2022.

How did you become interested in plant science/horticulture? 

My interest in plants and horticulture started as a child. My grandparents had a vegetable garden every year. I loved opening seed packets with my Nanna. She would let me pick through every seed to select the ones I thought would ‘grow the best plant.’ Getting to be involved in the life of a plant from germination, growing through the long, hot Alabama summers, harvesting in early autumn, and finally ending up on the dinner plate solidified my lifelong passion for growing a variety of species.

What is your favorite part of your job? 

My favorite part of my job is the team I work with. Everyone is so knowledgeable and hard-working. Some days, we divide and conquer to get tasks completed, and sometimes, we all join together to finish larger projects. 

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of the greenhouse? 

My hobbies outside work include outdoor activities, volunteering with different local groups, going to concerts and music festivals, and learning the science of brewing beer. The outdoor activities I love are hiking, kayaking, and camping. Concerts and anything related to music are a big part of my life. I love going to local venues to see up-and-coming bands that not many people have heard of or traveling for large music festivals. The furthest I have gone is to Iceland for a metal festival. Then there is my favorite hobby, beer. I love talking about beer, pairing beer with food, learning how to make beer, and, of course, just having a pint or two at the end of the day with a friend.

A fun fact about myself, and perhaps the most challenging endeavor I have chosen, is adopting a pet pig. In 2018, a friend’s granddaughter bought a “teacup pig” from a breeder. When she couldn’t keep the piglet, I agreed to take her. Six years and over a hundred pounds later, Miss Baby JoJo is still a part of the family. 

Lauren Howard – Greenhouse Assistant  

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from? What brought you to HudsonAlpha?

I studied pre-law in college, and during the last summer break, I wanted to do something as different as possible from being in a library with my nose in a book. I ended up working on an organic farm and fell in love. I’ve worked in organic farming on and off since college, interspersed with time in greenhouses and parks and recreation departments. This has given me a really wide skill set that works perfectly for my position here. I’m from Huntsville, so it’s been nice to settle down back home. 

Can you describe an average day in the greenhouse?

I start off the day watering each plant if it needs it and checking for any type of pest issue or nutrient deficiency. Everyday tasks include cleaning the greenhouse rooms or the pad walls, fertilizing, spraying, or harvesting and shelling peanuts. Since the plants are for research, they require a lot of care and attention to make sure each plant reaches its potential. 

What is your favorite part about your job? 

I am very, very lucky to have the position that I do. Being able to support scientific research with my skill set is awesome. 

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of the greenhouse?

I’m an avid gamer – card games, board games, video games, trivia, it’s all fun to me. I like hiking and being outdoors, and I love to cook.