Craig smiling in a red shirt

Craig Johnson, Undergraduate Researcher, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN


Prior to going back to college in 2019, Craig spent 15 years pursuing a career in pottery. While he loved pottery, he decided that art is a fundamentally narcissistic endeavor and wanted to do something that would benefit others. Because of his interest in gardening he decided to go back to college for a degree in plant science.

In particular he is interested in the development of plants for northern areas during and post climate change induced warming. As the north gets warmer over the next century, we will need to continually change the varieties and types of crops grown there. The north has differences in seasonality, day length, and soil conditions that will need to be addressed when breeding new crops for a warm north.


Emma amongst plants

Emma Sullivan, Undergraduate Researcher, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN

Emma is originally from the Chicagoland area and is now an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities studying Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management. In her freetime she enjoys being outdoors, checking out local coffee shops, and watching movies. Emma worked in the wild rice lab and greenhouse in St. Paul as well as participating in field research at the NCROC. 


A headshot of Matthew with a beer.

Dr. Matthew Haas, Researcher 5, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN

Matthew is originally from the Twin Cities area. He received his B.A. in Biology from St. John's University and his Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from the University of Minnesota. His doctoral work focused on identifying genes for resistance to Fusarium head blight and spot blotch from wild barley. He also completed a PostDoc at the Leibniz-Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben, Germany where his project focused on characterizing the impact of domestication on regulatory variation of gene expression in barley. In the WRBGC program, Matthew worked to annotate the wild rice genome and assessed the extent of genetic diversity in the species. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, bicycling, and reading. He now works in alumni relations, still at the UMN. 

Contact info: [email protected] 

Aaron Semington standing in a field.

Aaron Semington, Undergraduate Researcher, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN

Aaron got his undergraduate degree at UMNTC studying Environmetal Science, Policy, and Management. He grew up in Edina, Minnesota and has worked with parks districts and watershed organizations from around the area. Aaron helped our team to quantify shattering resistance in our breeding lines. Aaron is now pursuing his master's degree at North Dakota State University studying the effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi inoculation on prairie plants' response to climate change. 


Lizzie smiling in front of yellowing tree leaves.

Elizabeth Spencer, Undergraduate Researcher, NCROC, Grand Rapids, MN

Elizabeth grew up in Rochester, MN and is an undergrad working towards a B.S. in Plant Science with minors in agronomy and horticulture at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. In her free time you can find her kayaking, hammocking, playing with her dog, watching Minnesota sports, and gaming with hometown friends.



Jacques standing with his arms crossed in front of some wild rice.

Jacques Duquette, Researcher, NCROC, Grand Rapids, MN

Jacques grew up in Crookston, MN, has a BA in Biology from St. John's University (MN) (emphasis in microbiology) and a MS in Plant Breeding from Iowa State University. Jacques worked in medical device labs, for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, was a volunteer EMT, and a stay-at-home dad before joining the wild rice breeding program in 2008.  He has worked in plant phenology/pathology/breeding and seed germination/dormancy/embryo development as well as helping others perform fertilizer, plant health, soil, and entomology studies.  Jacques is married with 3 children and is an Honorably discharged member of the MN Army National Guard.  His hobbies include traveling with his family, reading, miniature replicas, and history. Jacques left the program in 2021 to explore a new career.

Contact info: [email protected]


Clare Gietzel, Graduate Researcher, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN

Clare enjoys photography and hiking, where ever she lives. She earned her BS in Agronomy from the University of Wisconsin-  Madison, in 2018, with certificates (minors) in environmental studies and global health. As a master’s student, Clare focused her research on pollen travel and exploring different seed treatments for decreased microbial contamination and increased germination. She graduated and earned her MS degree in the program in 2021. 


Cedar Palaia standing in front of two greenhouse tanks.

Cedar Palaia, undergraduate researcher, St. Paul, MN

Cedar is originally from Wayzata, Minnesota. Cedar is an avid outdoorsman and loves spending time in his cabin up north. Cedar also enjoys golfing, hiking, and cooking in his spare time.  He recently graduated with a degree in genetics, cell biology, and development from the University of Minnesota. In the WRGBC program, Cedar worked both at the NCROC and in St. Paul helping to manage our field trials, assessing the longevity of wild rice pollen in an effort to better understand pollen travel in wild rice, as well as several other projects. Cedar now works for PreventionGenetics. 



Samson Riggins, Undergraduate Researcher, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN

In his spare time, Sam likes gardening and spending time with his two dogs, Alice and Sable. He is from Minneapolis, MN and graduated from South High. Sam is currently an undergraduate at the UMN. His main focus in the program was to help with the study of the effects of microbes on northern wild rice in seed storage, with Clare Gietzel acting as his mentor.



Amanda Monson, Research Plot Technician @ NCROC, Grands Rapids, MN

Amanda is originally from Bottineau North Dakota where she graduated high school and obtained her AS at Dakota College at Bottineau.  She then obtained her BS in Agronomy from University of Minnesota Crookston.  She worked in the sugarbeet pathology department at the NWROC as a student employee before joining the NCROC's wild rice breeding program.  In addition to reading, she enjoys helping her family with their beef cattle operation and also owns a Norwegian Elkhound Mix that she enjoys taking to the lake.

Amanda was with the program for ~one year and moved on in late 2019 to work with a private company in North Dakota as a field scout. 


Jacob Murzyn, Undergraduate Researcher, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN 

Jacob is a Graduate from St. Anthony Village High School in the Twin Cities and is currently working on his BS in Plant Science with a minor in Spanish Studies at UMNTC. His main focus in the program was studying root architecture in wild rice. In addition, he was involved in assisting other members with their research. His proudest achievement so far is becoming an Eagle Scout while serving in his Troop, 9106. 


Mingqin (Mike) Shao, Postdoctoral Researcher, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN

Mingqin (Mike) received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Huazhong  Agricultural University of China researching wheat and canola quantitative genetics. Afterwards, Mike worked for four years as a Seed Production Research scientist to improve hybrid seed productivity of corn and sunflower, for Monsanto, in China. Mike then went on to receive his PhD in wheat genetics and breeding in 2017, from Kansas State University, working on wheat resistance to stripe rust and Hessian fly. In our lab, Mike worked on wild rice molecular marker development. 

Mike was with our program for ~one year and has since moved to CA. Mike is now a Senior Research Associate for the Plant Functional Genomics team, at the DOE Joint Genome Institute.


Haleigh Ortmeier-Clarke, Undergraduate Researcher, St. Paul Campus, St. Paul, MN  

Haleigh is a sixth-generation agriculturalist from Southwestern  Minnesota. She received a B.S. in Plant Science at the University of Minnesota. Throughout her undergrad Haleigh worked in the Hirsch Lab of Maize Genomics and organized STEM outreach programs in CFANS. Haleigh also served in an appointed position with Governor Mark Dayton and the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota. When she isn't working, she enjoys spending time with her family on the farm. 

As of 2019, Haliegh is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. 



Henry Schumer, Research Plot Coordinator @ NCROC, Grand Rapids, MN

Henry grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota before joining the army and going to Vietnam from 1970-1972. After coming home, Henry completed his bachelors in agronomy at the University of Minnesota. Henry spent 42 years working at the North Central Research and Outreach Center, eventually becoming the program's research plot coordinator, overseeing the experiments that take place at the NCROC. He has been a central player in the work that has been accomplished in the wild rice breeding program, leading to the release of multiple successful varieties. His work also had a significant benefit for the cultivated wild rice industry as a whole.  Henry retired in March of 2018. The program has lost an incredibly knowledgeable partner and he will be sorely missed but we wish him the best and hopes he has fun during this new adventure!