Alumni Spotlight: Kira Bowen

Plant Pathology Alumna Kira BowenKira Bowen
Ph.D. 1983

Advisor: Paul Teng

Current position: Professor, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Auburn University 

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

I am currently involved with research on target spot of cotton, Fusarium head blight of wheat, and am exploring diseases that might occur on a new crop, Brassica carinata. Target spot of cotton is an emerging foliar disease which has been documented as causing substantial losses of cotton lint. Projects include elucidating the conditions that favor target spot occurrence and looking for resistance. The Fusarium head blight work is aimed at better management of this disease and involves evaluating host resistance and fungicidal strategies. I also continue to think about aflatoxins, and am involved in evaluating biocontrol strains of Aspergillus flavus in corn.

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

My passion is crop losses and the conditions that favor disease to cause crop losses. I love that every day of my life, I continue to learn things, and that I can contribute to solutions for problems in crop production. I love that I can work with plants, and that my work overlaps with my hobbies (e.g., gardening, collecting southern native azaleas).

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

As a freshman in college, I needed a job to help pay for school, so I asked my undergraduate advisor if he could help me find such a job. He noticed that I was doing well in classes and offered to hire me. That person was Dr. William Merrill Jr., Forest Pathologist, and an alumnus of the University of Minnesota, Department of Plant Pathology. I worked for him throughout my undergraduate years, working with fungal diseases of trees, and, based on his advice, got into grad school in plant pathology at the University of Minnesota.

What's great about the Department of Plant Pathology?

I made some of the best friends of my life, my fellow grad students, while working on my Master's in St. Paul. Monte Miles, Mike Wingfield, Coy Jones, to name a few. At that time, all of the graduate students were being challenged--in different ways--through scholarship, personal strife and cultural changes in society. We banded together and were able to address or deal with our challenges because of our support for one another. I also think it's great that just across the street are fine greenhouse facilities and the USDA-ARS group.

What was your favorite moment from your time in the department?

So many 'favorite moments': Thursday night seminars, bread baking contests, costume and theme parties by the grads.

Who was someone in the department who inspired you/made an impact on your career and why?

Paul Teng, my advisor, provided me with opportunities to work abroad; Fred Morgan (I think he was a plant diagnostician for a while), my neighbor and advocate.

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

Master's degree work and working with Dr. Teng on varying projects set the stage for the remainder of my education. I also learned to deal with some interesting professional challenges.

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

Keep your options open; you never know what opportunities will present themselves and be really good for you. Do good work, with integrity; you never know when you'll make an impression on someone and you want that impression to be a positive one.

Any other information you would like to share?

My first Annual APS meeting was in Minneapolis during the first few weeks of my Master's program. I started then as an APS volunteer.