Meet PPEM's 2016 Ph.D., M.S., and World Campus graduates, as well as undergraduates who minored in Plant Pathology and/or Mushroom Science and Technology or who worked in PPEM labs.

Graduate Program

Aynardi-Brian.jpgBrian Aynardi, Ph.D. Plant Pathology

A native of Reading, PA, Brian Aynardi wanted to complete the culminating degree in his field so he could have opportunities to pursue his passion in both academia and industry. The sum of his experiences was the highlight of the program. He taught, did basic and applied research, and was involved with whatever he wanted to pursue. This freedom allowed him to become a well-rounded scientist.

Brian's dissertation research was to investigate two genetically distinct isolate types causing dollar spot of turfgrass in the U.S. His research demonstrated that these isolates occur over a larger geographic area than originally thought and occur in adjacent stands of turf from their preferred hosts. Further, he conducted pathogenicity tests to evaluate the ability of the two isolate types to cause disease on the preferred and alternative host type. Lastly, he developed conventional and quantitative PCR assays for rapid detection of the pathogen and quantification of fungal biomass in host tissue. Brian's dissertation was titled "Sclerotinia homoeocarpa: pathogen biology and molecular detection methods."

Brian intends to use his degree to effectively develop active ingredients for diseases of turfgrass. Upon graduation he became Northeast Research Scientist for PBI Gordon Company.

BardsleyCapassoSarah Bardsley Capasso, Ph.D. Plant Pathology

Sarah Bardsley Capasso, of Bethel Township, PA, pursued a degree in plant pathology because she wanted to learn more about science and agriculture and get involved in applied research to potentially improve the lives of her community. Her dissertation titled, "Antibiotic resistance in Pennsylvania stone fruit orchards" focused on bacterial spot on stone fruit, the worst bacterial disease of peach and nectarines in the eastern U.S. fruit tree industry. Sarah enjoyed her experience working with the fruit tree growers of Pennsylvania.

When asked what advice she would offer to future graduate students, Sarah said, "Know your adviser's expectations of you. Set goals. It's not enough just to do lab work, but get involved in extracurricular activities where you can practice your leadership and team building skills."

During Fall 2016 Sarah worked as a postdoc with Drs. Kari Peter and María del Mar Jiménez Gasco at the Fruit Research and Extension Center (FREC) examining storage rots of apples and the effect of pH on antibiotic sensitivity. She hopes to continue to use her degree to help improve plant disease management by making disease management strategies more effective, less costly, and safer for the environment, farmers, and consumers.

In January 2017 Sarah will begin work at the University of Pennsylvania as Assistant Biosafety Officer in the Office of Environmental Health and Radiation Safety.

Chen-YueyingSW.jpgYueying Chen, Ph.D. Plant Pathology

Yueying Chen's dissertation was titled "Identification and characterization of pathogen effector-host target interactions involved in rice blast disease."

Following graduation, Chen became a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Harold Trick's lab at Kansas State University.

Conaway-Steven.jpgSteven A. Conaway, Ph.D. Plant Pathology

Steven Conaway's dissertation was titled "The role of host-pathogen-environment interactions in successful biological control of Cirsium arvense with the rust fungus Puccinia punctiformis."

Steve's home is Bronx, New York, where he is Conservation and Outreach Director at Greenwich Land Trust in Greenwich, CT.

World Campus

The intercollege Master of Professional Studies (iMPS) Homeland Security-Agricultural Biosecurity and Food Defense Option degree is an online program through World Campus. It offers flexibility and convenience, allowing one to connect with faculty apart from a classroom setting and to work full time while pursuing a degree.

Amy Daffe, iMPS Homeland Security-Agricultural Biosecurity and Food Defense Option

Katherine Dennison

Katherine Dennison, iMPS Homeland Security-Agricultural Biosecurity and Food Defense Option

Katherine sought to complement her nutrition and public health background by pursuing this degree, and desires to address food security concerns across continental regions in addition to keeping the U.S. prepared to identify foreign organisms in crops, livestock, and our food supply in general. She recommends this program to others because she considers it a useful education, highly applicable, and tailored to working professionals in the field. Katherine found that professors were well equipped to share their experience but also learn from their students. Dennison intends to use her degree by continuing in an international setting focused on food and agricultural security that addresses appropriate nutrition and responsible resource management, especially within a changing climate.

Willis Glass, iMPS Homeland Security-Agricultural Biosecurity and Food Defense Option

Susan Menges Hurley, iMPS Homeland Security-Agricultural Biosecurity and Food Defense Option

Susan desired to continuously educate and challenge herself, so her next step was to pursue a master's degree. The Homeland Security program with the agricultural biosecurity and food defense option was an excellent fit. Susan believes she has consequently solidified her place as a professional in her field and recommends this program to others, regardless of which Homeland Security option is selected. She said that given the state of affairs in today's world, "we need professionals who can be leaders in preventing, mitigating, and responding to threats of any kind."


Kim Riley, iMPS Homeland Security-Agricultural Biosecurity and Food Defense Option

Kim Riley always wanted to attend Penn State and hopes to advance her career with her Penn State World Campus intercollege Master of Professional Studies (iMPS) in Homeland Security degree. However she admits to just "pure bragging rights."

Neal Williams, iMPS Homeland Security-Agricultural Biosecurity and Food Defense Option

Undergraduate Program

Cassidy_Kevin.jpgKevin Cassidy, B.S. Biology, Developmental Biology and Genetics Option, Religious Studies minor

Kevin worked as an intern in Dr. Cristina Rosa's lab during spring semester 2017 following his December 2016 graduation. Beginning August 2017 he is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh in the Biological Sciences Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) program.

Lucy Lagoze, B.S. Biology: Ecology Option, Psychological Science minor

Benjamin Nason, B.S. Horticulture, Mushroom Science Technology minor

Shane Pusey, B.S. Biology

Kevin Smeltz, B.S. Agribusiness Management

Swisher-Hunter_profile.jpegHunter Swisher, B.S. Plant Sciences: Plant Science Option, Mushroom Science Technology minor, Plant Pathology minor

Hunter Swisher, a native of State College, PA, says he always had an interest in plants and fungi. Upon entering college, he was introduced to the field of plant pathology, which combined his "two interests into one plus some." When asked to describe a highlight of the program, Hunter said, "The faculty and staff...have...[built] a community...that especially invites undergraduates to join in and see what research, extension, and teaching is all about. [You're] urged to participate, even as an undergraduate, in every one of the events happening in the department. This was something that stuck out to me because I wasn't treated like I was just a student pursuing the minor; I was a member of the department."

Hunter worked with Dr. Gretchen Kuldau for two and one-half years and had the opportunity to participate in inoculating trees in growth chambers, DNA sequencing, and foraging for wild morels to preserve his own laboratory cultures. His undergraduate research project focused on exploring the potential mycorrhizal association between Morchella (commonly known as the morel) and particular tree species.

Prior to graduation, Swisher founded Phospholutions, a company designed to reduce the environmental impact of fertilizers. Although his business is not directly related to his minors, he has developed his understanding of the scientific method through his research and work in the department.

Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology


211 Buckhout Lab
University Park, PA 16802