Botany student receives predoctoral award from Ford Foundation

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Botany student Jessica Orozco has received a highly selective Ford Foundation Fellowship to support her research into the evolutionary history and diversity of culturally significant plants. She is the first student in the history of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Claremont Graduate University botany program to be awarded a Ford Fellowship.

Photo of Claremont Graduate University Botany Student Jessica OrozcoShe is one of 60 graduate students nationwide to receive the fellowship, which provides $20,000 annually for three years as she works toward her doctorate in botany.

Orozco's interest in plants and indigenous culture began years ago when she was inspired to uncover her Native American heritage. She currently works with the Costanoan Rumsen Ohlone tribe and has served as a botany consultant to the tribe.

“After learning about the relationships that indigenous cultures have with native flora — both culturally and spiritually - and how important plants are in Native American societies, I wanted to learn more about the plants in my environment (California) and their specific relationships with native cultures,” Orozco said.

Orozco earned her bachelor’s degree in botany at San Francisco State University. She completed two National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates projects, one at Cornell University in plant genomics and a second at the University of Virginia’s Blandy Experimental Farm.  En route to her doctoral degree, she has undertaken a project, a floristic study or plant inventory of the Tule River South Fork watershed, which is primarily located on the Tule River Indian Reservation in Tulare County, Calif.

In addition to her plant science studies, Orozco has been involved in Southern California Botanists and is a teaching assistant for Professor Erich Steinman’s class “Indigenous People of the Americas: Colonization, Identity Resistance,” at Pitzer College. In addition, she has been instrumental to numerous programs at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, including the 2013 Wildflower Festival and development of interpretation publication for horticultural exhibitions. 

“This is an exciting achievement for Jessica and, through her, for the graduate program in botany. We are proud of her and look forward to working with her as she matures as a scientist,” said Lucinda McDade, executive director of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and chair of the Department of Botany at Claremont Graduate University.

The Ford Foundation Fellowship Program is designed to generate increased minority representation in U.S. colleges and universities. Administered by the National Research Council of the National Academies, the fellowships include awards for predoctoral, dissertation, and postdoctoral levels to individuals who demonstrate superior academic achievement with a commitment to research and education.

About Claremont Graduate University's Botany program

In conjunction with the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont Graduate University offers master's and doctoral degrees in botany emphasizing systematics and evolution of higher plants.  Subfields include monographic and revisionary studies, cytotaxonomy, molecular systematics, phylogenetics, plant anatomy and comparative morphology, ecology, plant geography, and reproductive biology. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, founded in 1927 by Susanna Bixby Bryant, is the largest botanic garden dedicated exclusively to California native plants. The Garden is located on 86 acres in Claremont, approximately 35 miles east of Los Angeles.