Meet PPEM's 2020 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

Laura Bautista Jalón

Ph.D., Plant Pathology; International Agriculture and Development

Laura Bautista Jalón will begin her career in industry as a researcher, scientist or product developer for medium to large-sized companies that are involved with agriculture and farming.


  • Northeast SARE 2017 Graduate Student Grant Awards.
  • L. Earl And Veronica Casida Graduate Scholarship in Plant Pathology
  • James F. and Marilyn L. Tammen Funds
  • Lester P. Nichols Memorial Award
  • Funds for Excellence in Graduate Recruitment (FEGR)
  • XII Award "Jose Maria Bergillos", to the best Masters Engineering Thesis Dissertation "Comparative analysis of Verticillium dahliae populations infecting symptomatic and asymptomatic hosts in crop rotations".


  • Gamma Sigma Delta, The Honor Society of Agriculture
  • Oomycete Molecular Genetics Network
  • Genetics Society of America
  • American Phytopathological Society
  • Panelist and Speaker, Student Voice Panels, Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity
  • Mentor, LGBTQA Mentorship Program, Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity
  • Student Poster Judge, INTAG 100

Leadership Roles

  • International Agriculture and Development Student Association, Vice-President (2017-2019)
  • APS Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics committee, The American Phytopathological Society (2018-2019)
  • Plant Pathology Association (PPA), President (2016-2017)

Bautista Jalón served as a teaching assistant for INTAD 820: International Agriculture and Development Seminar and INTAG 297: Spanish for the Agricultural Sciences, a service-learning experience in Philadelphia. Her passion for international agriculture has led to a dual degree in plant pathology and international agriculture and development.

Bautista Jalón performed research on the genetic diversity, evolution and ecology of Verticillium dahliae, the causal agent of Verticillium wilts, populations associated with potato agroecosystems with the purpose of helping growers improve the management of the disease using crop rotations.

Through her research, she was able to identify rotational crops and weed species that can act as asymptomatic reservoirs of V. dahliae in potato fields, and which lineages of the pathogen infect them. In addition, her research also revealed that V. dahliae lineage 4A, highly aggressive towards potato, populations from northern U.S. potato agroecosystems are highly clonal and have been disseminated with the use of potato seed tubers carrying propagules of the pathogen.

Bautista Jalón also worked on the design and development of molecular markers for the rapid detection of V. dahliae lineages 4A and 4B isolates, which are often associated with Verticillium wilt epidemics in potato agroecosystems. On the side, Laura collaborated on other projects in which she used population genetics and evolution to help study V. dahliae and Pythium spp. populations. She was involved in laboratory and field research, helped on extension and outreach activities, and enjoyed working with growers and farmers.

Amanda Mainello

M.S., Plant Pathology

Amanda Mainello will pursue a doctoral degree this fall at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Mainello's graduate work at Penn State included: studying the bacteria associated with potato blackleg and soft rot in Pennsylvania by isolating bacteria from symptomatic potatoes; evaluating the isolate's ability to rot potatoes; characterizing and identifying isolates by genetic tools (rep-PCR, 16S rRNA, MLSA, WGS); using shotgun metagenomics to describe the species present in several symptomatic potatoes without relying on bacterial isolation. These tools and genera-specific PCR were used to develop pipeline for processing symptomatic potato samples in the Plant Disease Clinic at Penn State. She also studied the causal agent of drippy nut on oak using 16S.


  • College of Agricultural Sciences Graduate Student Travel Award (2019)
  • Arthur and Rita Gaspari Memorial Scholarship (2019)
  • Graduate Student Travel Grant (2018, 2019)
  • Raymond G. Grogan Student Travel Award (2019)
  • Alan A. MacNab Plant Pathology Memorial Endowment (2018)
  • James F. and Marilyn L. Tammen Memorial Endowment for International Plant Pathology (2018)

Leadership Roles

  • Plant Pathology Association (PPA), Vice President (2018-2019)
  • Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology Communications Committee, student member (2017-2019)

Her master's thesis is entitled, "Determining the pathogens associated with blackleg and soft rot in select Pennsylvania potato fields."

When asked about insight for prospective students, Mainello responded:

"Penn State's Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology Department is full of resources. Faculty, staff and students make this department a welcoming environment to challenge yourself. Being a member of our department gives you so many opportunities to learn; having lunch with seminar speakers, attending workshops on topics from genetic analyses to communication styles, trips to farms and processing facilities, and outreach opportunities.

"The activities going on at Penn State and the PPEM department particularly make it a very engaging place to learn and critically think about your research from new perspectives. The seminar speakers come from academia, industry and government. Having the opportunity to meet with them gives PPEM students a broader context for where plant pathology fits in our food system.

"I've enjoyed participating in our Plant Pathology Association (PPA). It's helped curate a certain kind of community in our department and is a platform for us to share our plant pathology knowledge with the broader community. Our Caffeinated Conversations is a friendly outlet for students and faculty to get to know one another, our "Tips and Tricks" handbook is intended to help new students feel welcome right away with our advice on moving to State College and getting acquainted with graduate school, and our growing set of teaching materials allows us to participate in a broad range of outreach events.

"Penn State's Microbiome Center is also a foundational resource for PPEM students. The Microbiome Center's seminars and workshops exhibit methods and tools from different disciplines that we could apply to plant pathology and interacting in these regular meetings helps spark creativity in our own work.

"At Penn State, I've learned the foundational skills that I think will have prepared me for my next step in research."

Mainello plans to eventually work in agricultural policy.

Matthew Wheatley

Ph.D., Plant Pathology

Matthew Wheatley will begin his career as a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Yinong Yang’s lab at Penn State, working on CRISPR-based diagnostics.


  • Elwin L. Stewart & Barbara J. Christ Plant Pathology Graduate Studies Enhancement Award
  • Henry W. Popp Award
  • Arthur and Rita Gaspari Memorial Scholarship
  • James P. Roberts Scholarship

Wheatley’s research at Penn State centered around adopting and improving CRISPR/Cas technology for the plant pathology community. He spent his time working on developing CRISPR tools for fungal genome editing and plant pathogen detection. Specifically, he worked on multiplex genome editing in the fungal pathogen Magnaporthe oryzae and developing online webtools to aid in gRNA design. In addition, Wheatley developed Cas12 based diagnostic methods for nucleic acid-based detection of CLas, the citrus greening pathogen, and Group VI phytoplasma responsible for PPT (potato purple top).

Kaixi Zhao

Ph.D., Plant Pathology

Zhao's dissertation is titled, "Two Orthotospoviruses Pathosystem: Interaction of Plant- Viruses-Vector."


  • L. Earl and Veronica Casida Graduate Scholarship
  • Graduate Travel Award
  • Lester P. Nichols Memorial Award
  • Graduate Recruitment Award

Undergraduate Program

Charlie Stinson

Mushroom Science and Technology Minor
B.S., Agribusiness Management

Charlie has accepted a full-time job working for John R. Stinson and Sons Mushroom Farm in Hockessin, Delaware, as a phase 2 mushroom composter.

Crosley Kudla-Williams

Plant Pathology Minor
B.S., Plant Sciences

Crosley has been accepted into the Plant Pathology graduate program at Penn State and will start in the fall.

Po Wen Pai

Plant Pathology Minor
B.S., Plant Sciences

Po Wen Pai has accepted a graduate position at University of California, Davis, California.

Laine Hackenberg

Plant Pathology; Horticulture Minor
B.S., Plant Sciences

Laine has accepted a position as a research assistant in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at Penn State and plans to attend Colorado State University to pursue a master's degree in plant pathology. 

Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology


211 Buckhout Lab
University Park, PA 16802