Dr. Rebecca A. Melanson

LSU PPCP Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Rebecca A. MelansonDr. Rebecca A. Melanson graduated with her M.S. (2011) and Ph.D. (2014) degrees, both with concentrations in plant pathology, from the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology (PPCP) at LSU. After earning her Ph.D., she joined Mississippi State University (MSU) as an Assistant Extension Professor. Melanson is located at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, MS, and has statewide responsibilities for vegetable, fruit, and nut crops.

At LSU, Melanson examined various genetic and/or functional genomics aspects of two plant pathogenic bacteria: Xylella fastidiosa (pecan bacterial leaf scorch) and Burkholderia glumae (bacterial panicle blight in rice). However, as an Extension specialist for numerous crops, she deals with diseases caused by pathogens from all plant pathogen groups. “The education I received in the courses in the Department (PPCP) gave me a solid background and helped prepare me for my current role with MSU Extension,” said Melanson, who gets numerous questions on various fungal diseases and currently has collaborative projects involving Pseudoperonospora cubensis (cucurbit downy mildew) and whitefly-transmitted viruses in cucurbits.

While Melanson had some prior experience with Extension, applied research, and pecans working as a research associate at the LSU AgCenter Pecan Research-Extension Station in Shreveport, a 100% Extension appointment in a new state and with many new crops was a drastic change from her graduate school research. “There were so many new things to learn. I felt like I was in school again.”

Now, almost six years in, Melanson has become more knowledgeable and comfortable in her position and has updated or created a number of Extension publications as well as organized new educational programs for agents and commercial producers. Some of those programs cover production and pest management in pecans, vegetable pest management in high tunnels and greenhouses, and disease identification and management in tomatoes. She continuously works, however, to improve her skills and add to her repertoire of Extension resources to support the needs of her clientele. Most recently, she began creating voice-over “video” presentations on various plant diseases. 

Even though Melanson’s appointment is 100% Extension, she also participates, as is often the case with many Extension faculty, in teaching, research, and service. She gives a formal lecture to undergraduate students in a team-taught plant pathology course at MSU and serves on graduate student committees; she collaborates with various partners to prepare grant proposals and carryout successful proposals; and she serves as an associate editor for the American Phytopathological Society’s (APS) journal Plant Health Progress and current Secretary-Treasurer for the APS Southern Division.  

“The opportunities I had in graduate school to develop leadership skills, practice and improve my writing and presentation skills, and build my network have been invaluable to helping me succeed in my position.” While some of those opportunities were readily available and simply required participation, others were harder to find and required more time and effort and sometimes resources. However, Melanson said, “Every opportunity taken made me better prepared to handle and succeed in the expectations and responsibilities of my role as an Extension specialist and faculty member.”

While the breadth of that role certainly keeps her busy, Melanson enjoys her work and the variety of activities that come with it. Some of her Extension accomplishments and activities can be found on MSU Extension’s Fruit and Nut Diseases and Vegetable Diseases webpages and on her program Facebook page.