Travis Birdsell

  • Degree: Master of Horticultural Science (Fall 2021)
  • Advisor: Dr. Jonathan Schultheis

What was your degree(s) or focus?

Maximizing Internal Quality of Butternut Squash (Cucurbita moschata) through Harvest Timing and Storage

How are you planning to use your degree?

This degree was needed to meet requirements for maintaining a position as County Extension Director. It also helped expand my knowledge of cucurbit production which helps me work with pumpkin growers as they encounter issues with management and storage. Also, time spent in graduate school helps sharpen the sword of being a scholar, learning how to discern and disseminate new information. Improving this ability only allows me to be a better Extension agent as I work to help improve the profitability and sustainability of agriculture systems in Ashe County.

Whom do you want to thank?

I would like to thank my advisor, Dr. Jonathan Schultheis, for the countless hours of guiding and mentoring me. I am proud to not only call him an advisor, but also a colleague and a friend. I would also like to thank Dr. Penny Perkins-Veazie and Dr. Chris Gunter who served on my committee and proved time and effort to the projects I was involved with.

I want to thank my wife Maggi, who never gave up on me even when I was ready to give up on myself. You are my rock and my confidant, with you everything seems possible. My two daughters, Alice and Annabelle (who was born during grad school). They may not know it yet, but they sacrificed hours of play while I was working on projects or traveling for class. My parents, Rick and Jane Gardner and Ed and Ramonia Birdsell. My grandparents, whose support I still feel even after they have passed.

I also have to thank the Ashe County Extension Office for their support through the years of work towards this goal.

A special thank you to Rachel McLaughlin. You have been my Kilgore Guardian Angel. Thank you for everything you do!

What is the best thing about studying horticulture at NC State?

The faculty and staff. They are such a great group of people. The relationships developed will last a lifetime.

Do you have plans for after graduation? Are you currently working?

We’re going to Disney World! No, seriously, I believe that on any given day we all have the ability to be great at something. In order to be great at something we have to make decisions on what we will not be great at that day. Many days over the past several years I have had to choose being great at class or research projects. This meant I couldn’t be great at being a husband or a dad, so now it is time to be great at that for a while.

Professionally, I plan to continue learning and serving through N.C. Cooperative Extension, Ashe County Center. I believe that education is a lifelong process and the greatest university is the home; that my success as a teacher is proportional to those qualities of mind and spirit that give me welcome entrance to the homes of families I serve. I will continue to ensure that Extension is a link between the people and the ever-changing discoveries in the laboratories and research fields of our public institutions. Most importantly, I will continue to believe in my own work and in the opportunity I have to make my life useful to humanity.

Advisor Comments (Dr. Jonathan Schultheis):

Travis’ MHS project emanated from a grant that he helped draft. The research and extension project was funded to improve management practices to improve butternut squash production. One of the key impacts of Travis’ project was that contracted butternut acreage in North Carolina grew 30% resulting in an estimated increased value of $0.9 to 2.4 million to the North Carolina vegetable industry. Travis is gifted in communicating with people and has done this one on one, and in large settings at both professional research and extension meetings that have met locally, at the state, national and international levels so that information of substance can be conveyed and adopted. Travis is extremely knowledgeable in horticulture subject matter with specific expertise in Christmas tree and squash/pumpkin production. Travis is a shining star when it comes to how an extension program is valued and implemented. It was my privilege to work with Travis on his MHS project. Currently we continue to work together on new projects involving pumpkins in which the NC industry has grown in recent years and is valued at nearly $15 million annually. The success of these projects drive Travis’ enthusiasm to continue working to improve the lives of North Carolinians.

Congratulations Travis on your Masters degree! I wish you and know you will have continued future success.