Sean Sylvia , Sustainable Plant Systems Major

Fall 2020 CALS Outstanding Senior

"Sean is a natural achiever who can effectively and without any oversight, after initial explanation of the task goal, complete his work to the level required. He is also very courteous, a good conversationalist, and is incredibly respectful of everyone he has worked with at the greenhouse."  

- Gene Giacomelli nominator 


Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a Sustainable Plant Systems Major with a focus on Controlled Environment Agriculture.

Originally, I began my first college class in the Fall of 2000 back in CA, not knowing what I wanted to study or major in. So, I took general education classes and explored classes that interested me. 

After September 11, I joined the military to become a pararescueman, which is someone who helps in search and rescue, combat search and rescue, and recovery support. After completing over 9 years of active duty, I decided it was time to go back to school and pursue a higher education.


When I started at the University of Arizona, I was in a nutrition program with the intent of going to medical or physician assistant school. I switched to environmental science because I figured being trained in food and medicine would provide me with two possibilities of careers in which people will always need.

What have you enjoyed most about your major?

I’ve greatly enjoyed being able to work in the greenhouse labs at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) and apply the science skills learned at the university into real world applications.

My favorite class was Plant Biology with Dr. Smith. He challenged you to learn and understand the basic biological concepts of plants and their cells.

Any clubs or leadership positions you enjoyed?

I joined the mycology club, but after the pandemic broke out and club activities became difficult. 

I have held leadership positions from two combat deployments in 2017 and 2019 as a pararescueman team leader in the US Air Force in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

Any scientific research you did?

I worked with Dr. Gene Giacomelli at the CEAC on a research project to test growing grapes in a greenhouse with a hydroponic system.

It is important to get into research projects and get hands-on experience working in labs to build your skills for when you leave college and enter the workforce. Don’t be afraid to ask teachers and professors about projects and where you can help, the hardest part is getting out there and finding what you are passionate about.

Biggest challenge of being a college student during the pandemic?

It was tough switching to online classes for a science program that requires labs and hands on experience.

Next steps?

I would like to pursue a career in the agriculture field and expand my horticultural skills.

Words of advice?

Don’t be afraid to ask professors about projects and where you can help. The hardest part is getting out there and finding what you are passionate about.