Joe Wyatt
Published November 1, 2017

The future is brighter than ever for students in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – at Amarillo College, where construction of a grant-funded greenhouse facility began Oct. 9.

New Greenhouse Director, Gerek Burford

The greenhouse on the Washington Street Campus will serve as the cornerstone of a $4.9 million Hispanic Serving Institution STEM Grant that AC received last year from the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition to the greenhouse, the five-year grant is paving the way for new certificate and degree programs in horticulture, biochemistry, environmental science and sustainable resource management.

When it comes on line next summer, the 12,000-square-foot greenhouse will contain instructional labs and research space, along with a generous allotment of cutting-edge equipment with which to optimize it.

“The greenhouse will be a tremendous asset that offers cutting-edge, hands-on research to greatly enhance our students’ classroom experiences,” said Gerek Burford, greenhouse director. “Our students will benefit immensely from this fantastic new facility.”

AC students should benefit immensely from the presence of Burford, too. The greenhouse director and microbiologist is well-versed in the soilless agriculture systems that will be a primary focus of the new greenhouse: hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics.

“This is my passion, bar none,” said Burford, a graduate of Arizona State University who has substantial business experience in aeroponics, which is the development of systems in which plants are suspended in air and treated with a nutrient-rich mist.

“From a root-imaging system to rainwater harvesting, automated environmental controllers, and energy efficient LED grow lights, this new greenhouse will incorporate advance technologies that support learning not only for students in the sciences, but for those in all our STEM programs,” he said.

In addition to his responsibility for day-to-day operation of the greenhouse, Burford will assist and support AC’s STEM faculty by helping infuse courses with project-based learning activities and designing summer research projects linked to the new programs. He will also help facilitate pilot courses and assist with project evaluations.

“Gerek relocated here all the way from Arizona to pursue his passion for greenhouses and we could not be more pleased,” Dr. Claudie Biggers, Biology Department chair, said. “His expertise will vastly enhance our new facility.”