This Zamorano graduate is a greenhouse management specialist with more than a decade of experience in arboriculture and urban forestry. She is also an initiator of online agricultural education through certified programs that benefit entrepreneurs and farmworkers.
When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, María del Pilar Paz Castillo (Pili Paz), class of ‘98, was always decisive with her answer: “I want to be a Zamorano.” She kept her word and became an outstanding professional who is currently working as a research assistant at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida (UF), which awarded her the 2019 Superior Achievement Award for her contributions in multiplying online agricultural programs from five in 2017 to 108 in 2018.
As the daughter of a Zamorano graduate and faculty member, Pili grew up surrounded by students whose stories about their daily life at school she loved to hear about.
By that time the opportunity to study at Zamorano was open to women, and she realized that she she could obtain a university education. Upon graduating from high school Pilar had a scholarship to study in the United States; however, she decided in favor of Zamorano since she would have the possibility to explore all branches of agriculture.
Pilar recognizes that the education provided by her alma mater taught her not to be afraid of work and prepared her to face any labor challenge through learning by doing. “In the fourth year in the Tissue Culture Laboratory that was headed by Dinie Espinal, I was taught to be detailed and careful with work, and that has served me as an excellent base for my career in research. Being exposed to so many agricultural topics helped me to cultivate my curiosity in the area,” she recalled.
After graduating, she was nominated for a summer internship at Louisiana State University (LSU), and subsequently offered a practical internship to pursue her master’s degree. After obtaining her M.S. degree, she applied for and was granted a job at UF, becoming the manager of a million-dollar project that lasted five years. As a result of her good performance, she was appointed to a permanent position as a research assistant, collaborating for more than a decade on topics such as arboriculture and urban forestry.
As a research assistant, she went on to work with Dr. Paul Fisher in the area of greenhouse management, where she has specialized primarily in substrate management, vertical production, water management, propagation, and online professional training. Her responsibilities include designing and implementing research projects, training and supervising employees and students, and communicating research results through technical and scientific publications.
Expansion of agricultural education
Pilar Paz has also played a role in the agricultural extension area of IFAS, whose responsibilities have allowed her to conduct the Online Greenhouse Training program that includes the management of course registration, and Spanish translation, since the program is bilingual. Under her charge, she doubled the number of participants in the program, which earned her the Educational Materials Award from the Extension Division of the American Society of Horticultural Sciences (ASHS) in 2018.
She was also in charge of the implementation of the IFAS Canvas Catalog program, which improved online extension courses, after training more than 20 institutional units in its use, thus enabling an increase in the number of workshops from 5 to 108, an action that generated $90,000 to IFAS. For her outstanding work as an online agricultural extensionist, she was nominated and then awarded the Higher Achievement Award 2019, which recognized employees who made outstanding contributions to the University of Florida during the period August 2017 to July 2018.
After receiving the award, a recognition that took her by surprise, Pilar said she was happy to be able to contribute to the expansion of agricultural education. She acknowledged the hard work of the team that had given its best effort to move the program forward. “It’s something completely new and we didn’t know if IFAS would implement it, but thanks to the work we did with my superior, we have been successful at the institutional level. Being recognized encourages me to move forward, give even more, and try to make every day better, she added.
As an outstanding Zamorano professional, Pilar invited the new generations to take advantage of every opportunity and be brave in decision-making, taking risks, persisting, learning from mistakes and continuing with hard and integral work. “Zamorano’s name is highly respected throughout the world, and it is always necessary to contribute so that it continues to be recognized as an example of excellence,” she concluded.