Alumni Spotlight: Nora Altier

September 1, 2017

Plant Pathology Alumnua Nora AltierNora Altier
M.S. 1993, Ph.D. 1997

Nora Altier was awarded the 2017 Distinguished Alumnus award from the Department of Plant Pathology. Learn more about her below.

Advisors: Judy A. Thies (M.S.), Linda L. Kinkel & Neil A. Anderson (Ph.D.)

Current position: Senior Researcher & Professor, Instituto Nacional de Investigación Agropecuaria (INIA) Uruguay (National Institute for Agricultural Research)

Tell us about your current research or work involvements and their impacts.

Currently I have two main responsibilities at INIA, a 50% appointment as the Bioproduction Research Program Leader, and a 50% appointment as the Training and Development Program Leader of the Research Directorate. I have also an associate faculty appointment at the Graduate School of the College of Agriculture, University of the Republic. At 2013, I was appointed to the Governing Board of the International Association for the Plant Protection Sciences (IAPPS), as the Regional Coordinator for South America.

Research in our group is focused on developing bio-protection programs for minimizing the impact of diseases and pests on forages, field and horticultural crops, and forest ecosystems. We provide opportunities for graduate students at the M.S. and Ph.D. levels, focusing on the development and implementation of beneficial microbe technologies for plant protection, nutrition and growth enhancement. We promote network platforms using lab facilities in biotechnology, molecular biology, soil microbiology, applied entomology and plant pathology for developing biopesticide and biofertilizer microbial products. We also work in collaboration with the breeding programs in the development of new varieties with improved disease resistance. 

Since 2016, I lead a T&D program which aims to provide a variety of learning opportunities for researchers that fosters career enhancement, leadership, and professional development. Collective and individual plans are used as effective tools for the development of INIA researchers. These plans are an important part of succession planning by helping researchers develop skills that will be needed in the future. In a joint effort with the University of the Republic, we have also accomplished a fellowship program for graduate students and postdoctoral positions, offering opportunities for Uruguayan and international citizens. 

What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field?

I am always looking ways to project and transform current research in a long-term strategy for future networking and learning opportunities, especially for young people. Mentoring graduate students and young scientists challenges me every day. That is one of the reasons for promoting liaison programs between INIA and Uruguayan and International Institutions and Universities. Besides science, my other passion in running!

Why did you get involved with Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota? Tell us about your path to Plant Pathology.

After I attended the College of Agriculture, University of the Republic – Uruguay, I started working at INIA as part of a team that was focused on the lack of persistence of sown pastures. We first determined the agronomic impact that insect pests and diseases had on forage species, and then explored alternative strategies to manage them. I took responsibilities on plant diseases while another colleague did on insect pests. Later on, INIA provided me the scholarship for graduate studies, being able to choose between five universities that were part of a consortium. No doubt I had to select the University of Minnesota and the Department of Plant Pathology as my first option; I immediately contacted Dr. Robert Blanchette, who was the DGS at that time (1990). At the end of that year, December the 16th, I landed in the middle of the Minnesotan winter, with my family and kids Gabriela and Gonzalo. Lots of snow everywhere and no chance to regret!

What's great about the Department of Plant Pathology?

As soon as I arrived in the department, I immediately loved it. There, I found the warmth to fight against the coldest winter of my life! 

I have great memories from a wonderful time with the department. I feel grateful for the opportunities offered to me at the Department of Plant Pathology, but most of all I feel grateful for the people. My mentors and former advisors Neil Anderson and Linda Kinkel deserve a special mention, since they always placed their trust in me. I would also point out professors like Dr. Ernst Banttari, Chest Mirocha, Bob Blanchette, James Groth, Debby Samac, Ben Lochkart, Nevin Young, Phil Larsen, Thor Kommedahl, who fostered my program and advised me whenever I needed. 

The department gives students a unique opportunity to interact in a multicultural environment; to know people from all around the world with different backgrounds, who offer an open friendship. I remember and treasure pieces of life shared with TsiTsi Ndowora, Kathy Kromroy and Javier Plasencia, my office mates at Stakman Hall; many times, I recall Janell, Patrick, Ligia, Oscar, Akhilesh, Robert, Jean, Dean, Jim, Vergel, Dionicio, Consuelo, Claudia, Daniel. 

I felt sad to leave the department after my Ph.D. graduation in 1997. So at that time, we worked towards the signing of an agreement INIA-UMN, which has the commitment to reinforce collaborative work with graduate students and promote developing joint research projects of common interest. Since then we have encouraged many students from Uruguay to come to Minnesota for graduate studies and served as a mentor for Minnesota student internships in Uruguay (Silvia, Carlos, Pablo, Patricia, Elena, Jean Luc, Charles, Elizabeth). Deon Stuthman, Peter Graham and Ruth Dill-Macky did definitely contribute to the joint program's success.

How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today?

I had the privilege to receive a high-quality education from the U of M, where I met outstanding people, professors, staff, classmates, graduate students, alumni and friends, who made me grow up and be prepared to contribute in the field of plant pathology. The University, the department and the people encouraged me to accept the challenge to always keep walking the research path and teaching new generations of young scientists and plant pathologists. After finishing my education, INIA let me develop a scientific career, so today and every day I just give back to society what I´ve received.

What advice do you have for current students (and future alumni)?

Keep it simple: work with passion; embrace the flag of challenge; never give up dreams; keep going towards the goal, and once you reach the finish line, just start again with a new goal!