Student Spotlight: Andrew Howell

diver in orange shirt collects weed samples

NC State’s Crop and Soil Sciences is home to over 250 undergraduate and graduate students.  We have an ever-changing fabric of backgrounds and futures that shape our culture and horizon. Our students are on the move between classes, homework, and often, research or fieldwork.

We caught up with Andrew Howell, a dual Ph.D. student in Crop Science and Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, to learn about his research NC State and where he is headed next.

Where are you from?

I’m from Sanford, NC, in Lee County.

Who is your advisor and what are you studying?

I work under Dr. Rob Richardson in Aquatic and Noncropland Vegetation Management – part of our weed science program. My primary focus targets the use of innovations for improved vegetation management methods. This includes exploring unique herbicide chemistries, cutting-edge delivery methods, and developing management guidelines for monitoring and mapping invasive plants using aerial and boat-based sensing platforms. 

A large part of my work explores the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS; drones; etc.) for mapping and treating invasive plant species. I’ve successfully used UAS to remotely treat target weeds in pasture, farm pond, and forested sites. One of my many goals from this research is to provide invasive plant managers with a scaleable toolset that increases survey efficiency and implementation of rapid response techniques to combat weed species.

Man flying drone over pond

What piqued your interest in this field?

Invasive plants have altered our landscapes by displacing native flora and fauna communities for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. As an avid outdoorsman, I recognize firsthand the impact terrestrial and aquatic weeds have on the wild places I seek for adventure. It seems only natural that I merge my passion for the outdoors with a field of study which aims to ensure the preservation and stewardship of our natural resource systems.

What hands-on experiences have you had?

The most impactful experience for me so far was conducting research in New Zealand. At the beginning of my Ph.D. program three years ago, I was offered an opportunity to collaborate with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). I spent 6 months conducting research on a novel aquatic herbicide which was in the labeling process here in the US at the time. I also worked on several projects while on the North Island which used UAS to map submerged and emergent exotic aquatic plants. I was even able to incorporate some of my research at the Hobbiton Film set by capturing aerial imagery of riparian plantings used to mitigate water quality issues at the famous pond where the ‘ring’ was found. 

Man working on a computer outdoors in a fan boatWhat is next for you?

Always the loaded question!  After I finish my Ph.D., my goal is to continue conducting research on invasive species to conserve and protect America’s wild habitats.  

What is your career goal?

My career goal is simple:  to ensure future generations have the opportunity to explore and enjoy the same outdoor environments that I’ve been able to. In fact, my hope is that we continually improve our landscapes by combating invasive species. Having been actively involved in many conservation organizations, I feel my research could be well suited in a non-profit group or to the federal government sector. 

What have you learned here that you will take with you in the future?

I probably sound like Confucius, but your level of success in grad school is truly up to you, and the same goes for everyday life. Research will go wrong, files will get deleted, and plots will get destroyed– it’s learning how to rebound that makes a good researcher. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that success is really just knowing when to capitalize on opportunities. 

Tell us about an experience outside the classroom that impacted your time at NC State.

My six-month stint in New Zealand truly impacted my time at NC State. Having an opportunity to experience another country’s research program was a great professional opportunity and really challenged my way of thinking about study designs and stakeholder involvement. Further, living in another country for many months allowed me to observe how the work we conduct affects not only folks here in the Southeast, but also on a global scale. 

What do you like most about studying in Crop and Soil Sciences?

Except for a 12-month hiatus between my undergraduate and master’s program, I’ve been a part of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences since my freshman year in 2009. In this time, I’ve been able to make lasting friendships with numerous students and faculty. Simply put, Williams Hall is like home and for many nights has been a place of rest. 

Tell us a fun fact about you.

I’ve yet to own a vehicle made in the 21st century!

Picture Yourself in Crop and Soil Sciences

Want to know how you can do inspiring environmental studies like Andrew does? NC State students learn from expert professors and hand-on adventures every day.

Learn more about student degree pathways including deep dives into our soil science and turfgrass programs. Then sign up for an undergraduate’s guided email tour of our Crop and Soil Sciences Department.  It’s how we are growing the future.