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Portrait of Josh Handshoe

Grandparents, PFW help biology major enhance love of agriculture

By Blake Sebring

October 11, 2023

One of Josh Handshoe’s earliest memories was his grandmother asking him as a young child to remove the “tomato worms” from the plants. Walking rows of vines twice his size, he laughed as white butterflies landed, tickling his hands.

There’s a reason Handshoe studies biology with a concentration in genetics and molecular biology at Purdue University Fort Wayne, serves as president of the biology club, and wants to continue to graduate school.

“I’m interested in studying genetic models of inheritance, how physical traits get passed on to new generations, particularly in plants,” Handshoe explains. “I want to see that path for what the next generation of crops looks like, whether that’s genetic manipulation or generational breeding.”

He recently received a $1,500 scholarship from the Fort Wayne chapter of The Gardeners of America. Handshoe’s eventual goal is working in industrial agriculture, hoping to do large-scale food production, especially in urban areas.

Now this seems like Handshoe’s natural calling, but he tried several other paths before deciding. He dropped another major and decided this field is what excited him about life. He believes it goes back to his grandparents on both sides. One grandfather grew a large garden next to the house, and his other grandparents worked a huge farm in northwest Ohio.

As Handshoe said, there are eight billion people on earth, and every one of them depends on agriculture.

“The thing people don’t realize about plants, and something my grandparents taught me when I was young, is that they are alive,” Handshoe said. “They are living and breathing, and you can tell when they are happy. I’ve always loved animals, and once I realized that plants are living, I kind of fell in love with them as well.”

He even likes the bugs that come along with working the land.

“When the pandemic shut everything down, I thought it was a great opportunity to do what I loved, and what I really loved to do was grow plants,” Handshoe said.

He has a ton of plants in his home, too. Handshoe said he’s been inspired by PFW faculty members Arturo Villalobos, assistant professor of biology, and Jordan Marshall, professor of biology.

“We’ve moved away from the mentality that college is a time to grow, learn, and figure out a career path,” said Jordan Marshall, biology professor and graduate program director. “It seems like now students need to have it figured out before they arrive for their first year at the university. Since Josh was able to take that roundabout way to find his passion, I think it solidified a direction for him.”