Connecting the Dots Between Soils and Plants

A double major, Khader Saleh is pursuing his passions for plants and horticulture.

Khader Saleh
Khader Saleh

As a high school student at Centralia High School, Khader Saleh found himself spending a lot of time at Chance Gardens, a horticultural attraction listed on Missouri’s National Historic Registry. Saleh’s family lived 20 minutes outside of Centralia, so as he waited for them to pick him up after school or football practice, he would kill time by taking in the various plant life in Boone County’s oldest garden open to the public.

While there, Saleh connected with Jim Lee, who maintains Chance Gardens. Lee earned his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from MU in 1986. Saleh started to volunteer at the gardens, eventually securing a full-time position. His work turned his interest in plants and horticulture into a passion. And when Saleh made the decision to attend the University of Missouri, he knew exactly which degree programs he would pursue – plant sciences and environmental sciences, with an emphasis in land and soil.

“I’ve been interested in the environment since I was a kid,” Saleh said. “Spending time at Chance Gardens really made me passionate about horticulture and plants in general. Jim had a big influence on me as well. He didn’t just show me how to take care of the plants and flowers; he broke down the science behind how they’re grown.”

Saleh, who said his sister and uncle are also Mizzou graduates, joined MU through the MizzouMAAC program (now Tiger Pathways). For their first two years, MizzouMACC students were enrolled at both MU and Moberly Area Community College (MACC), and earned their associate’s degree during that time. In their third year, they became full-time Mizzou students – with some students joining MU earlier depending on how many credits they brought in from high school. While the program isn’t offered anymore, students who were enrolled, like Saleh, are allowed to finish their time within the program.

Saleh is considered a sophomore by credit hours, but is only in his second semester at MU. He is at the end of his time in the MizzouMACC program as well. He said he is essentially a transfer student – but instead of taking courses at one college and then transferring those credits over, he is taking courses at both MU and MACC simultaneously.

“I was able to use my A+ Scholarship through the MizzouMACC program, which was a really important thing for me from a financial standpoint,” Saleh said. “I’ve been able to complete my general education courses through the program, which has allowed me to jump right into degree-specific courses at MU.”

Saleh said he has enjoyed getting to know his professors early on, especially those in the two degrees he is pursuing. He mentioned Sam Lord, an instructor in the School of Natural Resources, as someone who has already made a huge impression on him.

“My high school graduating class was around 100 students, so not huge by any stretch,” Saleh said. “My first course at Mizzou, I went to sit down where the last row of seats would have been in my high school classroom, and it was one of the first rows here. It was a bit intimidating.

“However, the faculty and staff are really open and willing to help however they can. It’s been phenomenal so far. They’ve made a campus with 30,000 students seem much smaller.”

Saleh said he is hoping to participate in a research project or two as he continues to work on his degrees.

“I know I want to do research,” he said. “I’m really just figuring out the best route for me. The good news is that there are so many opportunities. I’m excited to see where I can get involved.”

Right now, Saleh said he is working on balancing the two degrees he is pursuing. He said there are plenty of interesting classes that he wants to take; he is just trying to fit them all in before graduation.

“My classes really meld together so well,” Saleh said. “I’m connecting the dots between soils and plants, and it’s been a fun balance because those two subjects are so connected.”