As a track and field athlete at the University of Missouri, time management was key for Maya Puller as she navigated being a college athlete and earning a degree in plant sciences. Some of Puller’s days began as early as 5 or 6 a.m. with practice and weightlifting, followed by her various classes and assignments.
Puller, who will graduate from MU in December, perfected her time management skillset in high school, where she also balanced her athletic career with her studies.
“I’ve been running track for a decade and learned how to manage my time pretty early on,” Puller said. “Thankfully, that carried through into my time at Mizzou. I had a lot more free time in college, so it was important for me to make the most of my time. The athletic staff has great resources to help keep us organized as well.”
A sprinter, Puller competed in the 60-meter dash, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash as a Tiger. She raced at indoor and outdoor meets. A native of San Antonio, Texas, Puller had never run indoors before.
“I was very, very overwhelmed when I first got here,” Puller said. “In Texas, we don’t do indoor track, so learning to run indoors was a big deal for me. Plus, the sheer level of competition in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) was a bit intimidating. The SEC has the best track athletes in the country, so being able to run against world-class athletes has been awesome. It’s been an honor to be part of the MU program.”
Puller worked with Natasha Brown, an associate head coach of sprints, hurdles and relays. It was Brown who helped recruit Puller to Mizzou.
“Coach was originally at Drake University, so if she had stayed I probably would ended up there,” Puller said. “I really wanted to work with her.”
Brown, who was a track and field star at Mizzou before earning a silver medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in the 4×400-meter relay, brought Puller in for a two-day visit as part of the recruitment process.
“I didn’t know anything about Missouri,” Puller said. “My first day, I had the opportunity to see the campus in its entirety. I toured the athletics facilities on the second day. After the first day, I knew I wanted to come here. I fell in love with the campus.”
Puller was an environmental sciences major with a plant sciences minor when she first arrived at MU. She switched to the plant sciences degree program during her junior year.
“I always enjoyed my plant science courses,” Puller said. “I thought getting a degree in plant sciences just made a lot of sense.”
Puller said her plant science professors were outstanding throughout her time in the program. Plant physiology and landscape/floral design were some of her favorite courses, and she found a passion for landscape architecture through classes taught by Tim Moloney, an instructor in the Division of Plant Science and Technology.
“His classes really drew me to landscape architecture,” Puller said. “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something related to plants, and I knew I was good at design and decorating. My mom was who actually brought up landscape architecture. When I started researching it, I found something that I thought I would really enjoy. The courses gave me a great foundation.”
A summer internship with a landscape architect in San Antonio reaffirmed Puller’s decision to purse a career in the field – and it opened a future door for her. She received a full-time job offer from the architect and will begin working with him in January.
“I eventually want to get my master’s in landscape architecture,” Puller said. “Right now, I’m going to enjoy my time working and will go back to school at some point.”
Puller said her time in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), as well as her time as a collegiate athlete, helped prepare her for that next phase of her life.
“I vividly remember when my parents dropped me off and thinking that I had no clue what I had just done,” Puller said. “I didn’t have any friends at MU and I was in a completely different state. The track and field program really helped me build friendships right away – and my time in CAFNR pushed me to excel in my chosen field of study. I never expected to be here, but I’m so glad I found my way to Columbia.”