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Extracurricular — Russell Anderson

Seeds of Success

Russell Anderson M’17 has set a record for graduate certificates earned by one student, including four in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that he added to his master’s in sustainable development and practice. Yet, he has still found time to launch his own enterprises in sustainable gardening, including a new vertical gardening product, Annual Explosion.

young man in blue stands next to wall of foliage
Russell Anderson M’17 has worked with local businesses, including Boca Fiesta restaurant in downtown Gainesville, Fla., to implement vertical gardening. Robert Landry

What’s your interdisciplinary education experience been like?
I started in the master’s program in summer 2015 and quickly was pulled into the Tropical Conservation and Development grad certificate. Getting into the climate science side of it, I realized what I wanted to do long-term: multinational consultancy. That gave me an opportunity to look at other schools at UF. Although, it’s been 18 hours a semester. I don’t recommend people doing that and also working full time. But that time is going to pass regardless, so you should capitalize on the resources and space you have when you have it. You never know what tomorrow brings.

What do graduate certificates provide beyond a standard degree?
It wasn’t until I got those certificates that I realized how much more I needed to know to get a holistic understanding of sustainability. For some of my graduating peers, they’re having trouble finding offers because they don’t have as much of a well-rounded experience. I’m feeling confident that I can go out there and if I don’t have the skills, I can network and coordinate to make things happen. There are a lot of opportunities coming down the pipe that are now in the realm of possibility.

How did you conceive your latest project?
I am working with Natalia Pegg, a local teacher. We were discussing horticulture and vertical gardening and lots of things about current products we didn’t like — material, expense, inefficiency. We developed a design that is lightweight, ergonomic, and easily transportable. It’s really cool to be working with a school teacher and refining those connections and capitalizing on our respective skill sets to make this thing work. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Why the name Annual Explosion?
This is a modular gardening system, so it is best used with annuals, replaced on a seasonal basis. So, you’ll have your fall splash and your spring splash — an explosion of color on your fence line or handrail. We can turn any grey thumb green. I think the market’s right for it.