(L to R) FNGLA CEO Tal Coley, UF/IFAS Interim Sr. VP/Dean for Research Rob Gilbert, and Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski, director at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center, exchange warm introductions at FNGLA Convention in July. PHOTO COURTESY UF
Great news about the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (MREC): It has a new leader who intends to reassert its role as the source of the science that underpins the green industry.
Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski, Ph.D., impressed us with her commitment to the industry throughout interviews for the job to lead MREC. Then she started demonstrating that commitment—months before she officially started as director in Apopka on Aug. 1.
One of her first acts after signing the acceptance letter was to book a room at the Westin Sarasota on June 23. At FNGLA's Annual Convention, Pelz-Stelinski met with FNGLA CEO Tal Coley multiple times, fulfilled a request from the association's Action Chapter for a green industry fact sheet, shook hands and thanked chapter leaders for endowment contribution checks, introduced herself at the board meeting, and socialized with FNGLA board leadership, members and green industry legends.
If you were there, even if you didn’t talk to her, you couldn’t have missed her. If somehow you did, look for her at The Landscape Show at the Orange County Convention Center this month. And if you miss her there, too, reach out to her at email@example.com to arrange a visit to the “new” MREC or invite her to come see you. She’s already been to an Action Chapter meeting as she engages in a 100-day listening tour.
The listening doesn’t stop after the tour. Pelz-Stelinski is forming an advisory board, and she’ll be reaching out to several FNGLA leaders to serve on it. She’s planning an open house-type event to meet and greet stakeholders and anyone interested in seeing MREC.
While Pelz-Stelinski will develop a formal strategic plan, she says the research agenda is likely to include ornamentals, landscaping, nursery and controlled environments. With Lake Apopka nearby and water so crucial to the future of the green industry, natural resources, too, will likely figure prominently in her vision.
Pelz-Stelinski’s background is insects. She arrived in Lake Alfred in 2008 as a post-doc in entomology and soon thereafter joined the faculty. She earned full professor status last year and has since 2019 served as associate director of the Citrus Research and Education Center, less than an hour’s drive from MREC.
As a teenager she worked the greenhouses at her aunt and uncle’s nursery and shop in Michigan. She didn’t become an expert in ornamentals, but she gained something very important—a poignant reminder that plants which beautify our state are a living for hard-working people with families.
Michael Rogers, one of our busiest center directors, was gracious to take on Apopka as a second job over the past two years, and I thank him for his leadership. Pelz-Stelinski can now focus on MREC and the possibilities of bringing on new faculty, reimagining facilities and recommitting to the green industry that helped build MREC in the first place.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s interim provost. Since 2020 he has served as Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).