May 2022 Commencement
During the May 2022 Graduate School Commencement ceremony, Texas Tech University honored the life and work of Kris Petterson, a graduate student from the Department of Plant and Soil Science who passed away in October 2021.
Upon the request of Petterson's advisor, Dr. Jyotsna Sharma, and a review of her research productivity, the Texas Tech Graduate School determined that her progress was sufficient to approve the conferral of a posthumous Ph.D. The distinction is one element of recognizing a young woman whose life impacted so many. It honors the tremendous passion, skill, and dedication that Dr. Petterson poured into her scientific curiosity about the complex interactions between orchids and microbes.
Dr. Jenna Kristine Petterson — known to friends as Kris — was a native of Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. As a high school student, she gained research experience by isolating endophytic fungi and bacteria from Cherokee medicinal plants. While pursuing a B.Sc. in Plant and Microbial Biology and a minor in Environmental Science at North Carolina State University, she also worked with the Center for Integrated Fungal Research. Other experiences included working as a research assistant for native tallgrass prairie restoration through the NGO Extraterrestrial Projects, vegetation surveys in China, and epiphytic orchid ecology in Costa Rica.
Her experience sampling epiphytic orchid roots in Costa Rica, processing them for isolations, and extracting DNA led to her position as a Ph.D.-seeking graduate student in Dr. Jyotsna Sharma's Plant and Microbial Ecology Lab at Texas Tech University. While working on her doctoral research, she also taught PSS 1411 labs for the Department of Plant and Soil Science.
Dr. Petterson's dissertation research — titled Structure and functional ecology of microbial communities of terrestrial orchids — was focused on the diversity and function of microbial symbionts of orchids, including Platanthera chapmanii, which occurs in disjunct populations in Florida, Georgia, and Texas. The data Kris generated will continue to contribute to forthcoming, relevant scientific publications.
Beyond the Graduate School's conferral of Dr. Petterson's doctoral degree, Davis College has established a scholarship fund in her honor. The Kris Petterson Memorial Scholarship — which was initiated by the Plant and Soil Science Graduate Student Council and is funded by various donors — will support graduate students in the Department of Plant and Soil Science who are studying Horticulture with strong teaching contributions.
If you are interested in making a contribution to the Kris Petterson Memorial Scholarship, you may do so here.