A renowned researcher, prolific speaker and mentor to college students is the recipient of the Society of American Florists’ (SAF) 2017 Alex Laurie Award. The association will present the honor to Paul A. Thomas, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Georgia’s horticulture department, on Sept. 9 during SAF Palm Beach 2017, SAF’s 133rd Annual Convention at The Breakers in Florida.
Established in 1948, SAF’s Alex Laurie Award is named for the eminent professor at The Ohio State University. Over the course of his 60-year career, Laurie laid the groundwork for research that revolutionized the floriculture industry and left a lineage of students, teachers and researchers continuing to provide the information necessary to ensure the industry’s future.
Thomas earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in botany from Southern Illinois University and his doctorate in plant physiology, with a specialization in plant carbohydrate transport in maize, from the Pennsylvania State University. His current research involves water conservation, production input reduction, sustainable greenhouse practices and implementation of wireless, sensor-controlled irrigation systems in nurseries and greenhouses.
Prior to joining the UGA faculty, Thomas served as the education greenhouse director at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the greenhouse manager at Southern Illinois University and as a scientist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service’s Northern Regional Research Center in Peoria, Illinois before joining the faculty at UGA.
At UGA, Thomas teaches greenhouse management, horticultural business practices and interiorscaping classes. A key component of his program is facilitating experiential learning through industry internships. Thomas serves as the State Extension Specialist in floriculture. In this position, he plans and implements regional and state programs involving greenhouses and the florist industry.
Thomas has published more than 350 peer-reviewed scientific and outreach articles and has received 41 academic awards. He has given more than 600 presentations to industry groups and has extensive diagnostic experience.
He serves as a grant reviewer on the American Floral Endowment’s education committee and chairs the American Society for Horticultural Science’s endowment committee. Thomas has also been very active in the Vic and Margaret Ball Internship program managed by the American Floral Endowment.
Notably, he served a six year term as a committee member of the D.C. Kiplinger Chair in Floriculture’s oversight committee, and served as a grant panel manager for the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Thomas is dedicated to nurturing aspiring horticulturists. He has over 20 years of service to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, as well as the college’s Young Scholars Program (a STEM High school co-mentoring program) and serves as faculty advisor to the Tau Chapter of the Pi Alpha Xi national horticulture honor society.
He has also served as a judge for the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a coalition of Georgia colleges created to recruit underrepresented demographics to studies in science, technology, engineering and math; the Georgia Junior Science and Humanities Symposium; and the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair.
For information about the Alex Laurie Award, visit safnow.org/awards.