The acronym ALLIUM represents the philosophy of the program: Accessible Leadership Learning through Interdisciplinary Unified Mentoring.

Accessible: By accessible, we mean that students that are traditionally underrepresented in graduate training will be recruited into the program. We strongly believe that avoiding silos of research fields is necessary for transformative research needed to address national and global problems in plant resilience. We recruit students with broad interests across plant sciences (e.g., crops, pests, conservation). 

Leadership Learning: Students will build their leadership knowledge and practice through a systematic process: 1) reflecting about what leadership means to them, 2) implementing a shared leadership project promoting equity and inclusion within the MSU community, and 3) practicing leadership through mentoring undergraduates in research. 

Interdisciplinary: Reflecting the need for leaders in data science in plant production with diverse knowledge across plant sciences, this program provides interdisciplinary training. Fellows will have the opportunity to work with faculty in the fields of Computer Sciences and Data Mining and will also have the option to pursue an Individualized Program PhD. An interdisciplinary curriculum will be required to arm students with the skills to communicate effectively across fields. The curriculum will have three components: technical, transferable, and discipline specific. 

Unified Mentoring: Successful students identify and take advantage of opportunities and resources provided by their institution and beyond. Through unified mentoring, ALLIUM Fellows will be offered consistent support across institutional levels and from industry partners. By building a framework for communication across these levels, we will retain students regardless of challenges that arise.

Plant Sciences

MSU’s Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology (PSPP) department hosts the ALLIUM program. Breeders in PSPP develop widely planted seed for the most economically important crops in the state of Montana, cereals and pulses. PSPP geneticists, pathologists, weed scientists, and entomologists develop new knowledge to integrate and facilitate the breeding process.

PSPP currently trains successful graduate students that matriculate into impactful jobs in agriculture across the nation and the world, through doctoral degrees in Plant Science with a focus in either Plant Genetics or Plant Pathology.

Student in lab

PSPP PhD student Erik Killian. Image: Kelly Gorham

With these degrees, PSPP PhD students secure positions in agriculture, including academics (post-docs, faculty), governmental employees (APHIS), private sector workers, and entrepreneurs.

Computer and Data Sciences

Advances in genomics and computer and data sciences are rapidly transforming how plant science is performed. Skills in data science are critical, with job opening expected to increase 15% between 2020-2029, vastly outpacing most other occupations.

To equip ALLIUM Fellows for this demand, courses and research spanning plant and data science will be offered. During the spring of the first year, Fellows will participate in a Data Mining Club. The goal of the club will be for Fellows to work cooperatively to analyze publicly available data on plant resiliency and interact with industry partners.

Co-advising across Plant and Data Sciences

Students can choose to be co-advised by faculty in the Gianforte School of Computing and earn their PhD through the Interdisciplinary Individual PhD program. 


In year one, the Fellows will focus on the concept of authentic leadership. Authentic Leadership Theory is a model of leadership in which leaders are genuine, self-aware, and transparent, leading through their personal convictions and values. Through a book club, Fellows will reflect on their self-awareness, the foundation of authentic leadership. Self-awareness refers to the ability to identify one’s feelings and control one’s responses. The Stanford University Business Advisory Council finds that self-awareness is “the superior competency that leaders must develop” to successfully bring about change. Enhancing self-awareness can be taught, as structured training has successfully improved self-awareness.  

In year two, Fellows will have the opportunity to study and implement a second framework of leadership, known as Just Practice that integrates concepts from the field of social work. In the Just Practice theoretical framework, trainees build awareness around social phenomena by representing them as a series of fundamental and overlapping dimensions including history, meaning, context, power, and possibility. Social work theorists and practitioners utilize this framework to structure their analyses of human interactions across different scales and types of engagements. This training for Fellows will better equip them to act as leaders in plant production.

In year three, Fellows will act in leadership roles as mentors to undergraduate students. They will receive additional training with specific focus on mentoring as scientists through seminars in the Entering Mentoring program. The goal of this program “is to accelerate the process of learning to be a mentor” through readings, seminars, and discussions. Assessment of Entering Mentoring showed that participants discussed expectations and considered diversity to a greater degree than non-participants. These focused skills will be useful for Fellows acting in managing and mentor roles as future leaders in plant production.