When Michelle Maile transferred to the University of Missouri, her love for the outdoors led her to select biological sciences for her area of study. Once she got to Mizzou, though, she realized that there were multiple degree programs that hit on her true interests, which are related to natural resources and plant sciences.
“At the community college I was at, they didn’t have any natural resource programs,” Maile said. “I honestly didn’t even know they existed. I figured biology was close to what I was interested in, but when I came here, almost everyone was pre-med or pre-vet. I was definitely in the wrong spot, but I soon found the perfect spot for me.”
Maile, who is from the Chicago, Ill., area, selected the natural resource science and management degree program in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR). She chose forest resources as her specific area of study.
“You could see my grades shift once I found natural resource science and management,” Maile said. “I was so excited to find the right path for me.”
Maile was actually scheduled to graduate last semester – but her love for MU kept her in Columbia. She decided to pick up a minor in environmental sciences.
“I enjoyed my time here and just couldn’t bring myself to leave,” Maile said. “I’m glad I stuck around and picked up a minor.”
Undergraduate research also kept Maile at Mizzou. She’s had an opportunity to work in a handful of laboratories, ranging in specialties from plant sciences to agroforestry. Maile has worked with Xi Xiong, an associate professor of plant sciences, and Chung-Ho Lin, a research associate professor of forestry.
“I’ve done research since my second semester here,” Maile said. “I absolutely love it. I’ve met so many great people in labs, and been able to learn so much.”
Maile also worked at the Soil Health Assessment Center and spent time out at the Baskett Research Center collecting sap from maple trees to make maple syrup. Her work with Xiong was related to sweet potatoes. She studied elderberry and pawpaws with Lin.
“All of these research experiences have opened so many doors for me,” Maile said. “Dr. Lin’s lab was really incredible in that it was the most diverse lab I’ve ever worked in. We all spoke different languages, but we were able to communicate through the work we were doing.”
Xiong and Lin were just two faculty members who played an important role in Maile’s time at MU. She said Hank Stelzer, associate professor in the School of Natural Resources, and Mike Gold, research professor of forestry, both helped Maile get connected to potential research projects.
“Everyone who I’ve worked with in CAFNR has been so great,” Maile said. “I was an ambassador when I first declared a natural resource and science management major, and that got me connected right away. I was able to work during the Chestnut Roast at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center, which is where I got to know Dr. Gold.
“The faculty really care about you, which means so much. They’re also very talented. When I look through research papers, their names pop up all of the time. There’s so much credibility within the program.”
Maile was heavily involved in Transfer Experience and Advising Mentors (TEAM) throughout her collegiate career, too. The group looks to connect transfer students with their peers.
“During finals week my first semester I randomly received an email from TEAM related to a study opportunity with snacks,” Maile said. “Snacks sounded like a good idea, so I decided to go. I didn’t know anyone, but I got connected with others, who talked me into joining. It’s such a great organization. I think all transfer students at Mizzou should try it at least once.”
After graduation, Maile will begin her master’s degree in plant, insect and microbial science. She will work with Reid Smeda, a professor in the Division of Plant Sciences. She will be doing research related to weed control in vineyards.
“I love research, so finally having the opportunity to do my own research is amazing,” Maile said. “It’s honestly a dream. It’s also exciting because I’ll be back in plant sciences, which is where I first began my research. It’s come full circle.
“I didn’t even like school growing up. I almost didn’t even make it through high school. The natural resource science and management program made me fall in love with learning. It’s been an incredible ride, and I’m excited that it’s still going.”