Mississippi Turfgrass Association is made up of a wide range of turfgrass professionals across the state and beyond. Each of our members brings knowledge and skills to help improve our association and our industry. In this issue, we’re highlighting Aaron Tucker, a Mississippi native and graduate of the MSU Turf Program, who is now pursuing his Ph.D. in plant pathology at Virginia Tech.
Aaron attended high school in Carthage, Mississippi at Leake Central. There, Aaron was heavily involved in the Agriculture program. After graduating, he earned his Associate’s degree in Golf at East Central Community College, where he played golf.
“In high school, I learned to play golf. But my father is an ag teacher, and I’ve always grown up around agricultural related things. We showed cows, my brother wound up becoming a vet. I’m curious, so I like science. I didn’t want to teach golf for a living so I looked for an avenue that would encompass both golf and agriculture, and turfgrass is right down that alley. So I chose to go into turfgrass at MSU and I’ve been fortunate to be provided certain opportunities along that journey,” Aaron says.
When making the decision on where to continue his education after his Associate’s degree, there were several factors for Aaron. “Mississippi State is one of those places that has a rich tradition in our family, but also oftentimes you tell folks ‘when it comes to your career path, choose what you love, and let the rest fall into place.’ Little did I know, MSU offers one of the best turfgrass programs across the country. Some places, when you’re applying for a superintendent position at a golf course, if your resume has Mississippi State on it, you’re one of the top on the list. I really enjoyed the idea of being a student at MSU, but also there’s a reputation that comes with their turf program that offers opportunity within the industry.”
Aaron earned his Bachelors of Science in Agronomy in the field of golf and sports turf management, and then began work on his Master’s degree, honing his area of interest into plant pathology.
As he was finishing his undergrad degree, Aaron was offered the opportunity to do research with Christian Baldwin (then an MSU professor) focusing on plant physiology. This opportunity planted the seed of pursuing further study in turf pathology.
“Turf pathology made sense naturally,” Aaron says. “So I reached out to Dr. Peterson, since there are a lot of plant interactions that happen in turf pathology between plants and fungi, etc. She already had an idea in mind for research, so we just went with it.”
Upon finishing his Master’s degree at MSU, Aaron had an opportunity to pursue his Ph.D. with plant pathologist Dr. David McCall at Virginia Tech. After meeting at an ASA conference years earlier, the two had stayed in touch. “Dave is good at getting funding for his lab group. The lab was one person at the time I met Dave, now there are five. We’ve got plenty of bodies that do field research and trials and help with those grants.”
One element of working in Dr. McCall’s lab that interested Aaron was extension work. He’d previously not been exposed to that aspect, and that was another element that influenced his choice to pursue his Ph.D. through Virginia Tech. (You can learn more about Aaron’s work in the research update on page 26 of the Spring 2021 issue of Mississippi Turfgrass magazine.)
Aaron’s long-term goal is to work in academia. He will soon begin his instructional duties. “I believe that being able to educate is paramount, and if you do it the right way, then you don’t have to do it twice,” he says. “I’m looking forward to the experience of being a TA and being able to assist.”
His father’s 30+ years as a teacher and FFA advisor certainly will have an influence on Aaron’s teaching style. “It’s hard not to, I’ve got some of him in me. He’s very patient, I feel like that’s a very important part of teaching. Put the knowledge out there and be patient in the learning process.”
The typical timeline for finishing a doctorate is three to four years, although the delays created by COVID may alter that timeline somewhat for Aaron. After he finishes, he says, “I’m a southern boy, so I’d like to get back there, but I’ll go where the opportunities are. It’s got to put food on the table.”
That will certainly be important for Aaron’s growing family. He and his wife, Emilee welcomed their first child, Elliott in 2020. Aaron says in his free time, he enjoys spending time with Emilee and Elliott and occasionally finding time to golf or even fish with his father.
MTA wishes Aaron success as he pursues his Ph.D., and we are proud to see our MSU graduates advancing our industry!READ THE ISSUE