Andrew Gustafson in a hard hat

While working part-time on farms and in greenhouses, University of Maine senior Ross Sousa of Somerset, Massachusetts learned firsthand how disease can ruin crops. Memories of farmers’ plight, combined with a passion for plant pathology and finding more sustainable agricultural resources, encouraged him to get involved in research to determine whether lobster shells can combat soilborne pathogens that infect potatoes.

The project, led by Ph.D. student Katie Ashley, is exploring how various concentrations of chitin from lobster exoskeletons will help cultivate microbial communities in the soil that help defend potatoes against soilborn pests. Sousa, an Honors College student, is assisting with the study as a technician in Associate Professor Jianjun Hao’s lab, assessing how lobster shell chitin alone and mixed with compost can inhibit Verticillium, a pathogen that can cause early dying among potatoes and other crops.

Ross has also received numerous scholarships during his time at UMaine, including two from foundation endowments: The Edward C. and Grace A. Cutting Merit Scholarship, created from a bequest from Grace A. Cutting ’25, and the Dr. Arnold & Donna Moody Scholarship. The Dr. Arnold & Donna Moody Scholarship was created through a gift by the Moody’s in 2010 to support students in the College of NSFA. Dr. Arnold Moody was a ’63 graduate of UMaine, and Donna’s parents met at and attended UMaine. The Moody’s expressed that they had doors opened and opportunities created for the thanks to UMaine and hoped their scholarship would do the same for future students. 

These scholarships have allowed Ross to feel more financially secure, as well as giving him the financial freedom to work on projects he is passionate about, like being a technician in Hao’s Lab. To read more about Ross’ experience in the lab, you can read his UMaine Bear Profile.