Esten Mason – CSU’s New Wheat Breeder

The Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee is pleased to have Dr. Esten Mason serving as the new Wheat Breeder at Colorado State University. We put together this Q&A profile so you can get to know him a little bit better. Hopefully he can go out on the road and meet all of you soon!

Q. Tell us a little bit about your background. What was your previous role before coming to CSU?

A. I received my undergraduate degree in biology and my PhD in Molecular Plant Sciences, both from Texas A&M University. After finishing my Ph.D. in 2009, my wife, 1year old son Rowan, and I relocated to just outside of Mexico City where I was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), working in the Global Wheat Program. In 2010 I was hired as an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas and spent 10 years there as a soft wheat breeder and geneticist. I started at CSU August 16, 2020.

Q. What inspired you to become a wheat breeder?

A. I grew up in rural central Texas and though my family did not farm, cattle ranching, hay farming, and fruit crop production, play an important role in the local economy of the region. My undergraduate degree was in Biology, but I started working in a wheat physiology lab as an undergraduate. After graduating and working as a lab technician doing cancer research for MD Anderson, I had the opportunity to start a PhD program in plant molecular biology. Norman Borlaug (Nobel peace prize winner and Green Revolution wheat breeder) was a faculty member at Texas A&M at the time and gave a presentation on his career in international plant breeding during the first semester of my doctoral studies. I walked out of that seminar with a newfound passion for plant breeding and a feeling that I could be successful at it because plant breeding was the perfect mix of science and art that I had been searching for in a career. After graduating I took a position as a wheat breeding postdoctoral fellow at CIMMYT in Mexico, where Norman Borlaug had such an impactful career, and while working in the field one day I got a phone call offering me the position at the University of Arkansas. The rest is history, you could say.

Q. What excites you the most about the Wheat Breeder position at Colorado State University?

The strength of the program, importance of wheat in the state, and the chance to work closely with wheat growers and make a positive impact in agriculture were the big draws for me. Scott Haley has done an incredible job building the program to have all the resources needed to be successful in plant breeding – from field testing to genomics, it is all right here at CSU and it allows us to develop products very quickly, train students, and do some really cutting-edge science as well. The fact that my family and I get to live in Colorado is another bonus of the job!

Q. Is there any other information you would like to share with us about yourself?

A. My wife, Shannon Mason, has a master’s degree in Floriculture and is now an instructor in the Department of Horticulture at CSU after being in the same position at the University of Arkansas. We have three kids, Rowan (12 years old, boy), Ryder (9 years old, girl), and Arlo (7 years old, boy). Since moving we are just trying to enjoy all things Colorado including hiking, camping, and skiing. I also enjoy playing bluegrass guitar and my wife and I love seeing live music when we can find the time!

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