The Philanthropic Pioneers of Plant Science
Norma and Linda Trolinder are a mother-daughter duo of preeminent researchers and have just established the N.C. PSI's first graduate student endowment to propel the future of the field they love.
We don’t always think of our parent as being a pioneer, of being this fantastic scientist – It’s just mom.
Linda Trolinder’s mother Norma is, in fact, a pioneer and a fantastic scientist. As one of few women of her generation in the field of plant sciences, Norma Trolinder received the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Early Career Scientist of the Year, Southern Region Award in 1991 for her research in genetic cotton engineering. Her patented technologies are what make genetically modified cotton possible. With her specialty in in-vitro biology, Norma taught at Texas Tech University, worked as a research scientist for the USDA and founded two biotech companies throughout her robust career.
Norma co-founded one of those companies, South Plains Biotechnologies Inc., with her daughter Linda. Together, they spent many years as mother-daughter and business partners, providing research services to several major agriculture companies at the time.
“Working with my mom, there were days of frustration, days of being awestruck, but I always reminded myself whose presence I was in,” says Linda.
When Norma stepped away from their biotech company to care for her husband, Linda found herself at the helm of a company early in her career. Since then, she has held several R&D positions in the company, which was most recently acquired by BASF where Linda now sits as the Senior Vice President of Research and Development of Field Crops, Seeds, and Traits overseeing a global organization of more than 800 scientists and breeders.
An Investment Years in the Making
During that period, Linda met the now-Executive Director of the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative, Adrian Percy, while they worked at Bayer. Many years have passed since their first encounter, during which Norma established a family endowment with the revenue from her intellectual property to recognize and support scientists in the plant sciences. While formerly managed by Cotton Incorporated, the fund recently became in need of a new home. Harkening back to her time at Bayer and more recent interactions with N.C. PSI through research collaborations at BASF, Linda knew the perfect place to entrust her mother’s legacy endowment.
The Norma L. Trolinder N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative Graduate Student Endowment will provide awards for graduate students engaging in N.C. PSI-related research. The endowment is the first named graduate student support endowment for N.C. PSI. Linda is coordinating the gift on her mother’s behalf and says it is really about honoring her mother’s work by encouraging young scientists.
“She’s somebody who has a humble background and was fortunate to generate a good bit of revenue with the technologies that she’s developed,” says Linda of her mother. “Not being a material person, she would rather put those resources to other uses to support scientists and perpetuate the knowledge of the industry.”
Inspiring Future Female Scientists
Linda says her mother was not only a role model for herself but also for a number of young scientists, predominantly women in the plant sciences. Linda grew up watching her mother navigate the sciences as a minority in nearly every room she walked into. Despite being a prolific and well-known scientist, Norma was often referred to by her male colleagues as the “grandma in the kitchen,” which did not sit well with her mother or Linda. When Linda joined her mother in the plant sciences, she continued to witness gender bias in and outside the lab.
After working in the industry for decades, Linda emphasizes women in science are gaining ground. While bias still exists, there are far more women in the room now, and Linda has noticed they are standing up for themselves and their peers. Most importantly, their work speaks for itself.
“The contributions that women have made in science are undeniable, especially when you look at recent Nobel Prize winners of CRISPR-Cas technology, for example. It’s just undeniable what women can contribute to the industry,” says Linda.
Some of Linda’s own contributions include 14 worldwide patents in plant transformation, herbicide tolerance and insect control. Over the years, she has received and shared much-needed advice from her mother about how to navigate the world of science as a woman. To all young women interested in science and agriculture, Norma would say this:
“Be yourself. Be confident in yourself and step out and do. Don’t worry about what other people think of you or what they say about you. Don’t let them define who you are and what you do. You should define that yourself. And if your passion is agriculture, go for it. Show them what you’re made of.”