2024 Intern of the Year: Ian Kelly By Madi Schafer

Gaining practical experience with potential employers while understanding industry knowledge are some of the key benefits of a good internship. Often, students get a fresh perspective on career goals and gain a network of professionals to work with in the future.

Learning about job opportunities within the company and, ultimately, the industry, can provide crucial insight into a student’s career path.

Ian Kelly, a senior at Purdue University, completed a summer internship at Ball Horticultural Company as the Young Plant Culture Research intern. Working in both greenhouse and laboratory environments, Kelly conducted trials documenting beneficial treatments for the varieties Ball Horticultural Company sells — later being incorporated into culture guides and extensions.

Kelly was able to enjoy a variety of plants during tours of Ball’s West Chicago location! Photos courtesy of Ian Kelly.

“My internship was invaluable in familiarizing myself with greenhouse procedures and techniques, giving me an appreciation for all the work that goes into caring for each individual plant until it’s ready for shipment or display,” Kelly said.

Throughout his internship, Kelly worked with young plants by putting each species into chilling chambers at different temperatures for different durations. Kelly would then observe each plant, recording their state on a scale from 1 to 5, one he created specifically for the project, ranking the severity of the plant’s damage.

“What I did evolved into a more quantitative preservative because we wanted to move into something a little more accurate for breeding purposes,” Kelly said. “The work I did where I was cataloging the different severities and symptoms was useful for Extension and helping people know what to look out for.”

While taking a quantitative approach, Kelly concluded that as exposure increased, so did the electrical connectivity values.

Ian Kelly tested vincas for the chilling experiments in Ball’s West Chicago greenhouse. Kelly worked on a couple of different species, such as vinca, pentas and angelonia.

Kelly also worked on other trials and gained overall greenhouse experience.

“On my second day, I was working with one of the greenhouse staff members, and I was trimming back begonias and learning how a greenhouse operates,” Kelly said. “It was interesting to learn the intricacies of working in a greenhouse. That wasn’t something I had much experience with beforehand.”

Through the trials at his internship, Kelly would also give plants root ratings from the different sprays used and the different culture management techniques.

During Kelly’s internship, he attended Cultivate’23, helping set up displays, restocking items and even answering a few questions from attendees.

“Cultivate was really interesting because the main priority was to represent Ball,” Kelly said. “We were also given the opportunity to sit in on two of the presentations they had and we were able to walk around the trade show, introduce ourselves and network a bit. That was a really cool experience.”

One of Kelly’s career goals includes genetic editing — creating new horticultural varieties. Through his internship, Kelly has been able to explore his interest in genetic editing while benefiting from hands-on experience.

“My internship opened the door up to what opportunities exist in scientific horticulture. This has been the big turning point in my career,” Kelly said. “This experience helped me get accustomed to a research lifestyle and helped me make my transition from an undergraduate program to a graduate program. Promoting myself as a person and meeting a lot of people from different backgrounds gave me a viewpoint of a lot of different sectors of the horticulture industry.”

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GPN recognizes 40 industry professionals under the age of 40 who are helping to determine the future of the horticulture industry. These individuals are today’s movers and shakers who are already setting the pace for tomorrow.