In celebration of National Pollinator Month, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting NIFA-funded researcher Dr. Andony Melathopoulos. Dr. Melathopoulos serves as an Extension pollinator specialist for Oregon State University.
Tell us your journey and how your interest in agriculture developed. Describe your involvement with NIFA and your role.
I have been involved in apiculture and crop pollination since the mid-1990s. My journey has taken me from the pollination of berries on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the management of honey bees for honey production, and hybrid seed production on the Western Great Plains. Throughout this journey I have seen the power of producers in swaying the adoption of technology. The current NIFA-funded project I am heading up trades on the importance of producers, beekeepers and conservationists in advancing bee-friendly practices. We are specifically doing this through the master certificate structure offered by the Cooperative Extension Service.
Could you catch us up on one of your NIFA-funded projects? What is the goal of your project and what impact do you hope it has on your institution and trainees?
We saw a lot of unused capacity among our top-tiered producers, beekeepers and conservationists in transmitting bee-friendly practices. The project provided additional tools to our existing Master Beekeeper program, providing them better tools to train other beekeepers on the identification of bee diseases. But we also created two new programs: the Pollinator Stewards program, focused on farmers and woodland managers; and the Master Melittologist program, which trains naturalists to survey for native bees. Combined, these initiatives are allowing our Extension programs a far broader reach than would ever be possible through specialist and county-based faculty alone.
How has NIFA funding shaped your professional development as a scientist?
I have seen the power of trained volunteers in conveying practices and performing cutting-edge research. Our Master Melittologists, for example, have been turning up occurrence records for bee species that have not been seen in the state for half a century. It has increasingly dawned on me that there is an alternative to the standard graduate student model to making discoveries: a well-designed volunteer program can contribute to remarkable discoveries from nontraditional students. This realization has upended my entire way of conceptualizing who makes discoveries and my role in facilitating latent amateur capacities.
What advice to you have for current students who may be interested in pursuing a similar career path?
Don't underestimate the resources to support your career that exist outside the walls of your institution. By reframing your program to align with the capacities of your non-institutional collaborators, you may find yourself on the opposite end of a firehose of data and information that is richer than anything you would ever encounter on your own. Moreover, by fostering independent thought among your non-institutional collaborators, you will find yourself supported and challenged in a manner that will make your career blossom.
Photo: Dr. Andony Melathopoulos conducts outreach education at the Oregon Zoo. Image provided by Dr. Melathopoulos.