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Klass closing in on her Ph.D. on pathogens that infect and impact vegetable crops

When Taylor Klass (WC ’14) was in middle school, her parents thought sending her to The Country School Farm’s week-long summer camp would be splendid. Set in Holmes County, the summer camp allowed participants to experience what it was like to be on a working farm in the 1800s.

While the camp forbade cell phones, computers, and video games, it offered campers the chance to do many old-fashioned farm duties.

“We did chores like rolling bales of hay down from the field, churning butter, and shucking corn,” Klass recalled with a laugh. “You also got to hang out with all of the farm animals.

“I fell in love with it, so much so that I came back for the next two summers.”

Years after learning to appreciate agriculture and animals, Klass is a United States Department of Agriculture NIFA Predoctoral Fellow and Ph.D. candidate at The Ohio State University’s Department of Plant Pathology. Her research is focused on diagnostics and diversity of bacterial plant pathogens that infect and impact vegetable crops. 

“Very generally speaking, I’m a ‘plant doctor,’” said Klass, who is scheduled to graduate in August 2023. “I research diseases that impact food crops and reduce crop yield. Plants and crops get sick from a wide range of pathogens, similar to how people get sick.

“My research is focused on two specific bacterial pathogens that cause significant disease on pepper and tomato plants globally. After I finish my Ph.D., I want to pursue a career in agricultural extension, translating the research knowledge to the growers who can put it to use on their farms.”

In 2018, Klass was selected as one of the top 20 outstanding seniors in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University. Her studies have taken her to Uganda, Cambodia, Senegal, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. 
“Growing up in Worthington, I didn’t know that agriculture was a possible field of study until my junior year of high school,” said Klass, who has undergraduate degrees in Animal Sciences and Sustainable Plant Systems-Agronomy. “I’m always advocating for kids who grow up in the city to know that agriculture is not only a career option, but it’s a growing field.

“We don’t have enough people coming out with degrees related to agriculture to fill all the open jobs. Once I found out that you could study that, that’s what I wanted to do, which led me to Ohio State.”

Before COVID, Klass collected stamps from different countries in her passport. As a freshman, she spent ten days in a rural, coffee-growing community in Nicaragua to learn about coffee production.

In 2019, she spent several months overseas. In January, she visited farms, cooperatives, conservation areas, and plantations in Guatemala to study sustainability, social impact, land use, and disease management practices there. She took an advanced crop improvement short course in Senegal in October and November. While there, she created a podcast about Senegalese rice farmers’ perceptions of new varieties and gene editing. She closed out the year visiting farmers and working in Cambodia’s USAID Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab Project.

Klass’ favorite trip was spending three months as a principal investigator for a resource project in Kampala, Uganda, in 2017. She surveyed ten urban and peri-urban dairy farmers about cow management. She studied the feeding techniques, milk output, and milk end-use and presented her findings to the Ohio State community upon returning.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Klass, who lived with 20 graduate students from all over Africa. “They became my good friends, and I still talk with many of them five years later. They cared for me, made me feel at home, and showed me around.”

The experience was far more primitive than the Country School Farm summer camp. The housing she and the other students stayed in was temporarily without running water for most of her summer there, requiring students to carry large amounts of water back to their housing.

“We took a lot of bucket showers, and we had to put water in the toilets to get them to flush,” Klass said. “But I didn’t mind it. I loved every minute of it.”

Klass is used to adjusting to new environments. After being home-schooled until she entered ninth grade, Klass came to Worthington Christian for high school.

Klass said at first, it wasn’t an easy transition to a school where everyone knew each other for most of their lives. However, she has many fond memories of attending school there.

“I am thankful for my time at Worthington Christian. It did prepare me well for the structure of college,” Klass said. “There were some wonderful teachers at WC, and there was an emphasis on learning and loving what you learn.”

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