GCPSA Executive Committee

President -Katia Viana Xavier

Katia Viana Xavier grew up on a farm, where her own struggles in a farming enterprise brought her to back to school with the goal of becoming a plant pathologist.  She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Agronomy from the Federal University of Vicosa in 2009, and then got her master’s degree in Plant Pathology at the University of Lavras in 2011. Following her dream to become a doctor in Plant Pathology, Katia moved to Kentucky, where she completed her PhD degree at the University of Kentucky in 2016. To learn more about Extension in Plant Pathology, Katia began her Postdoc at GCREC-UF in 2016. She is crazy about her soccer team, Atletico Mineiro, from Brazil, so for pleasure she watches and plays soccer.


Vice President - Juliana Silveira Baggio

Juliana Baggio is from Brazil. In 2010, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Sao Paulo. She finished her M.S. degree in Plant Pathology at the same University in 2013. During her program, she did an internship at Leibniz University of Hanover, Germany. She started her PhD in 2013 in Plant Pathology at the University of Sao Paulo and did part of her research at the University of Florida. After concluding her PhD in 2016, she moved to Florida to start her post doctorate at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. Currently, she has been working with management of strawberry diseases caused by the pathogens Macrophomina phaseolina and Phytophthora cactorum.


Secretary - Michelle Souza Oliveira

Michelle Oliveira was born in Brazil. She started her undergraduate studies at the University of Sao Paulo in 2007, completing a dual bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering and Agricultural Education. She first came to the US in 2011 to do an internship at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center at the University of Florida, working under supervision of Dr. Natalia Peres. Soon, she started her M.S. degree in Plant Pathology at the same University, graduating in 2015. Her M.S. thesis focused on fungicide resistance profile of quiescent Botrytis cinerea infections on strawberry transplants. Michelle is currently working on her PhD in Plant Pathology mainly focused on Colletotrichum crown rot of strawberry. She is very passionate about teaching and her goal after graduation is to become a professor.


Treasurer - Natalia Salinas

Natalia Salinas was born in Quito, Ecuador where she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in Biotechnology from ESPE University. She received a Master of Science in Horticulture with emphasis in Plant Breeding and Genetics at Oregon State University in August 2015. Currently, she is a second-year PhD candidate in the strawberry breeding program at the University of Florida, Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC). Her project focuses on discovering and characterizing genetic loci for resistance to acutatum fruit rot. She is advised by Dr. Vance Whitaker. Dr. Seonghee Lee, Dr. Natalia Peres, Dr. Samuel Hutton and Dr. Patricio Munoz are serving on her committee.


Program Development Officer - Krishna Bhattarai


Krishna Bhattarai was born in Nepalgunj, Banke, Nepal. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Tribhuvan University, Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, Chitwan, Nepal in 2010. He completed his Master of Science from Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, North Carolina, US in 2014. He joined Ornamental Plant Breeding and Genetics Program at the University of Florida, Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, Wimauma, FL in 2015 and currently is a PhD student working on gerbera daisy breeding. His research focuses on identifying the genes controlling powdery mildew resistance in gerbera daisy and developing molecular markers associated with the resistance. ​


Marketing and Communication Officer -Babu Panthi


Babu Panthi was born in Nepal. He completed his bachelor’s degree in agriculture science from Tribhuvan University, Nepal in 2011. He joined University of Florida (UF) in 2013 and graduated with MS in entomology in 2015. His MS thesis was focused on biology and population dynamics of melonworm in cucurbits. He started his PhD in 2016 with Dr. Justin Renkema at UF/GCREC/strawberry and small fruit entomology lab. His current academic advisor is Dr. Oscar Liburd in Gainesville. His research focuses on development of sequential sampling plan and phenology model for chilli thrips (Scirtothrips dorsalis) to estimate and forecast its population in FL strawberries and blueberries.


Plant City Campus Representative - Lexi Sanchez


Faculty Advisor - Dr. Johan Desaeger

Dr. Johan Desaeger was born and raised in Belgium and he graduated as an agricultural engineer from the University of Ghent. He started working with nematodes in 1994 in Kenya at the International Center for Research in Agroforestry. After completing his PhD in Applied Biological Sciences from the University of Leuven in 2001. he moved to the U.S. to work on nematode management in vegetables at the Universities of Florida and Georgia. He made the leap to industry in 2005 when he joined DuPont to start up a nematology program at their former research facility in Delaware.

Dr. Desaeger came back to Florida and joined the UF/IFAS faculty in the summer of 2016 to build a new nematology research group at the GCREC. He now lives in a quiet home backed by a large swath of wetlands with my wife, Karla, and his new Florida brown dog, Toby.