College of Agriculture

Erik Spitzer

Crops, Horticulture, and Land Resource Management

If he’s not reading, studying new languages, or engaging in physical fitness, you can find Erik Spitzer getting his gardening fix by caring for the chrysanthemums on his porch. What may have been just another hobby on his list now serves as a passion that forms the senior’s career path.

“I had always enjoyed gardening as a hobby but I had never really thought about a career in agriculture,” Spitzer said.

Formerly a biology major in his lower-division coursework at Sierra College, Spitzer decided to change his major after stumbling on agriculture. Now a crops, horticulture, and land resource management major at CSU, Chico, his career path has shifted. A small interest in gardening and tending to plants ignited as he decided to take two agriculture courses out of curiosity. From there, a passion for agronomy only grown.

“Studying agronomy at CSU, Chico has been the most academically enriching experiences I have had in my academic career,” Spitzer added.

Aside from his commitment to his studies, Spitzer has also maintained employment with the California Crop Improvement Association and CSU, Chico Research Foundation. Through his employment, he has gained a new appreciation for plant breeding and cultivar development. He said that these experiences have allowed him to explore potential careers and envision himself in the career field.

Within the College of Agriculture, faculty member Professor Hossein Zakeri posed as a mentor since Spitzer’s first class on campus. Through collaboration with Zakeri, Spitzer has completed a research project examining the potential of fava-bean as a dual-purpose cover and vegetable crop. His involvement in this project helped to expand his curiosity about the utility of cover cropping and the potential benefits of the practice in Northern California.

“Many farmers don’t practice winter cover-cropping regimens in between their plantings of summer annuals, so cool-season legumes may soon have a very important role to play in these cropping systems with the recent and upcoming regulations on nitrogen fertilizer application,” Spitzer explained.

Thoroughly impressed with Spitzer’s organization and attention to detail, Zakeri described him as unique individual with very bright future.

“During the 2017 winter break, I was really impressed when he left his vacation and came back to Chico to complete his poster and get ready for an upcoming conference and presentation. Erik is a reliable and self-motivated individual, and I feel confident giving him any task,” Zakeri said.

Another influential source of motivation for Spitzer was his high school biology teacher, Mark Fowler. Fowler’s Outdoor Education Program sparked an initial enthusiasm for biology and inspired Spitzer to pursue a plant-science related degree. His courses laid the groundwork for Spitzer’s current understanding of biology, ecology and evolutionary theory.

In recognition of his hard work in academics and community involvement, Spitzer was awarded several scholarships to help ease the financial burden of his education, including the California Bean Shipper’s Association K.P. Kincade Memorial Scholarship.

“[The Memorial Scholarship] has been one of the largest scholarships I have had the honor to receive, and I am very grateful that they chose me as a participant. Without the help of Professor Zakeri and the fava-bean study, I would have missed this opportunity. I’m grateful to all of my donors as their help has been instrumental in funding my higher education,” Spitzer said.

“Every little bit helps” is a phrase that Spitzer lives by, and it has influenced his everyday attitude and positive mindset.

“Whether you are participating in sports, school, or any new endeavor, it's easy to give up if you have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude. Even if you only feel like studying, exercising, or practicing a skill for 20 minutes, it's better to fit in a small session than do nothing at all. The minutes add up to hours in the long run,” Spitzer said.

For incoming students in the College of Agriculture, Spitzer recommends students get to know their professors, as at least one of them is bound to be working on a research project or study that needs assistance. He also said to take advantage of any field trips or industry tours offered, as his opportunity to attend the CSA Seed Science tour in Salinas was a great, educational experience.

“In five years, I would like to have finished a master’s degree in either plant breeding, plant physiology, or agronomy. I then intend to be working toward a PhD or be employed in the field. I can’t say for certain which path I will pursue . . .  but I’m excited for what is to come,” Spitzer said.