Yia Yang’s recipe for success is simple: water, sunlight and carbon dioxide. Yang, a freshman studying plant sciences, plans to cultivate a career in biotechnology, developing seeds that will feed the world’s burgeoning population. Hailing from Wheaton, Missouri, Yang hopes to increase the productivity of wheat, corn, soybeans and other staple crops through selective breeding and genetic engineering to ensure a stable world food supply.
Raised on his family’s Tyson poultry farm, Yang is the fifth of six children. Growing up, Yang could often be found caring for the chickens in the farm’s six broiler houses. He credits his work on the farm for teaching him valuable lessons — namely, that he prefers working with plants over animals. After leaving his family farm to attend the University of Missouri, Yang chose to pursue a degree in plant sciences, stemming from his interest in crops and agronomy.
“I chose plant science because I had been working with animals my entire life, and I was ready for a change,” Yang said. “Also, I feel that I can help more people throughout different parts of the world by advancing the science of plants rather than working in veterinary science.”
Through the Freshman Research in Plant Sciences (FRIPS) program, Yang has experienced many opportunities to grow his passion for plants. As a soybean breeding assistant, Yang helps field managers harvest, clean and organize soybeans grown in experimental plots at Bradford Research Center. After collecting the soybeans, Yang assists a laboratory research staff in the Bond Life Sciences Center by analyzing the beans for oil and protein content.
In addition to growing plants, Yang hopes to inspire future agriculturists by growing their leadership potential. As a vice president of the Missouri FFA Association, Yang travels throughout the state, engaging agricultural education students through speeches and workshops.
Yang’s enthusiasm and peppy personality make him a favorite of the state’s FFA members. Elizabeth Wyss, a member of the Russellville FFA Chapter and the secretary of Missouri’s Area VIII Association, looks up to Yang as a role model and mentor.
“Yia is very welcoming to all members, and he has a great energy that transforms and motivates the people around him,” Wyss said. “He is fun while remaining professional and is a great example for students.”
Samantha Marre, a freshman agricultural education major from Elsberry, Missouri, and a state officer teammate of Yang’s, echoes Wyss’s sentiments.
“Yia connects with members on a personal level,” Marre said. “Students look up to him and see him as a role model because he is fun-loving, authentic and engaging. He makes a personal investment in other people and has incredible positivity — he is always having a good day.”
Yang hopes his passions for helping people and studying plants will bloom into a successful career in biotechnology. To feed a growing world, Yang knows he will have to become a plant researcher “going against the grain”—developing innovative and effective new technologies for plant growth.