Elizabeth Bowman's research looks at the symbiotic microbial relationship between plant-related fungi and their hosts.
Elizabeth Bowman's research looks at the symbiotic microbial relationship between plant-related fungi and their hosts.

New Scholarship Supports Vets Studying Plant Sciences

The William A. Hanacek Endowed Memorial Scholarship funds research by the first recipient, Elizabeth Bowman, making it possible for her to balance her education with being a wife and mother.
March 26, 2018

William A. Hanacek served in the military with a tour of duty during the Vietnam War era, decades before Elizabeth Bowman ever thought of joining the Navy.

On Thursday, on National Vietnam War Veterans Day and in remembrance of Hanacek's service, Bowman will carry on his legacy as the first recipient of the William A. Hanacek Endowed Memorial Scholarship, awarded in recognition of her study of plant sciences and her military service. The scholarship funds her research and makes it possible for her to balance her continuing education and professional goals with her responsibilities as a wife and mother.

Before the crack of dawn each day, Bowman sips a cup a coffee as her family sleeps. She grades papers and does work before 7 a.m., while time seems to hang in limbo and the sun slowly raises its head. Soon it is time to assume her duties as Mom and prepare herself and her daughter to catch the bus. At 8, she drops off her toddler at day care, only to catch the bus again and make her way to the University of Arizona campus.

She splits her working day between two roles: researcher and writer. From the lab conducting research to her office writing her Ph.D. dissertation, time flies. She appreciates the support she receives from the Hanacek scholarship, which was allocated to the UA when Hanacek died and his sister established the fund in his memory.

Hanacek, a veteran who later became a plant pathologist, wanted the scholarship created to provide for students such as Bowman who have served in the military and have an interest in plant sciences.

From East Texas to the Navy

Bowman entered the military at 19. She had grown tired of east Texas, so she joined the Navy to gain new experiences and soon started down the path of becoming a linguist. Her options in the role were simple in terms of language: There was a need for speakers of Chinese, Korean and Arabic, and Bowman was chosen for Arabic.

Joining the Navy and learning the language proved beneficial. She completed technical training after boot camp and was deployed to the Middle East for more than a year.

"Overall, the military was a really good experience," she says. "I felt like I grew, and I figured out what I wanted to do with my life."

Ten years after leaving the Navy, Bowman leads a hectic, yet rewarding, life. The scholarship makes it possible.

"My first semester at grad school, my daughter was born," Bowman says. "My husband and I take care of her but he works full time, so it helps fund her day care, so I can attend school in addition to my research."

At the UA, Bowman's research looks at the symbiotic microbial relationship between plant-related fungi and their hosts. She studies the microbes on Ponderosa pines in the Sky Islands of Arizona, specifically ectomycorrhizal fungi found in roots and foliar endophytes found in needles. 

The goal is to discover how the communities are structured across different environments, pinpoint any similarities or differences, and use what she learns to address challenges in the produce and textile industries.

Implications for Drought and Food Shortages

"Increasingly, microbes are being used as an alternative to fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, different things like that, because a lot of these microbial fungi help plants uptake water and nutrients from the soil," Bowman explains. "Endophytes have been found to help with photosynthesis, water usage and pathogen resistance, and there are companies already working on this.

"Indigo, a company based out of Boston, released a variety of cotton where the seed was inoculated with a microbe, and they found that it was increasing the yield of the cotton. Because there are variations based on genotype of the host and environmental factors, it's still not fully understood. With the cotton trials, they did find there was some variability based on location. So, being able to better understand how specific the symbioses need to be would make these applications more effective."

Her research is delicate and time-consuming but can help solve the potential challenges of drought and food shortages that scientists have foreseen. Her research also is something she believes would appeal to Hanacek.

Hanacek "seemed to be equal opportunity ... and his sister was very excited that the first recipient was a female veteran and indicated that he would've loved that," Bowman says. "So, I would like to thank him for giving me this great opportunity. I think he would be interested in the research that I'm doing, and I would have loved to hear his input."