As one of three children being raised in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by a single mom who made ends meet by selling merchandise at a swap meet, Kiona had no exposure to agriculture growing up.
That changed when a faculty member invited Kiona to work in his lab at the University of Florida.
He supervised her research on bacteria as an alternative to chemical pesticides to control plant-damaging nematodes. The work she did at the UF/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center earned Kiona a fourth-place finish at an international science fair. She credits the experience with helping her win the Gates Millennium Scholarship that makes it possible for her to attend UF today.
She’s now a junior in UF’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences majoring in horticulture with a focus on plant molecular and cellular biology. She’s doing research on transgenic plants under the supervision of the chair of the horticulture department.
Kiona also founded what she calls the S.T.E.A.M. Academy – STEM with the arts thrown in – a student group that holds public events to raise awareness about global issues such as food insecurity.
Kiona aspires to work in industry on transgenic crops. She’s attracted to a corporate setting by the potential to interact directly with farmers and to respond more directly to consumer demands.