"I really like to garden. It really makes me happy. How cool would it be to have a whole career in it?" De Vries asked herself. "I love it."
De Vries, a graduate of Roundup High School and the daughter of Janet and Richard De Vries, is now a junior at MSU and majoring in horticulture. With her interest sharply in focus, she spent last summer working as an intern at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park at Grand Rapids, Mich.
"I kind of fell into it. I just got lucky," De Vries said about the opportunity that unintentionally took her to an area of the country where tulips and Dutch last names like hers are commonplace.
The internship rotated De Vries through a variety of Meijer gardens and greenhouses. She also "weeded and weeded and weeded" around "The American Horse," a 24-foot-tall bronze horse that's one of only two in the world built according to Leonardo da Vinci's specifications.
Now back at MSU, De Vries is participating in the Undergraduate Scholars Program which promotes undergraduate research. De Vries' research is aimed at developing plants that are bushier and shorter, thus more attractive to Montana customers.
"It's a project about the light quality affecting plants," De Vries explained. "Here in Montana, we have really horrible low-light conditions. ... Because of those horrible light conditions, the plants we grown in our greenhouses tend to stretch out. They can get stringy and yucky."
Hoping to change that, De Vries is conducting experiments in MSU's Plant Growth Center under the guidance of Tracy Dougher, assistant professor of plant sciences & plant pathology. The experiments involve growing lettuce and pansies under a variety of filters that look like colored Saran Wrap.
"This is aimed at greenhouse growers. It also stems from work I did for NASA, growing plants under controlled situations," Dougher said.
"Kristi's project is going to be valuable to Montana growers, because it deals with the low-light conditions they have to deal with frequently," Dougher added.
De Vries - who finds something new to enjoy about horticulture every week - isn't sure what aspect of horticulture she'll pursue when she earns her degree. One dream would be to become an educator - maybe a professor or someone who guides little children through botanical gardens.
"It would be really neat to do some kind of research somewhere," she said.
Otherwise, since her dad has a concrete business, De Vries joked, "Maybe he can do sidewalks, and I can plant things."
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org