How Derek Sebastian Combines Passion with Purpose

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

This feature is part of a series of blog posts spotlighting unique AgVocates for their efforts to educate others and support the agriculture community. This December, we are happy to highlight Derek Sebastian, the newest member of the Bayer Vegetation Management Stewardship Team (VMST). With a Ph.D. from Colorado State University, Sebastian brings natural area, habitat restoration and bareground expertise to customers and consumers across the United States.

In this interview, he shares how he went from hoop dreams to dreams of restoring natural habitats, increasing pollinator spaces, enhancing wildlife habitats and preventing wildfires.

Q: Tell us about your passion for the weed sciences. When and how did you develop this passion?

A: With my Dad working at CSU for over 25 years in the weed science field, I had the opportunity to learn many valuable lessons from his experience.  I started as a summer hourly worker doing research plot maintenance, and never would have imagined it would eventually evolve into a career with Bayer. I started my graduate research in 2012 at Colorado State University, in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, where I quickly realized this is what I am truly passionate about.

Derek Sebastian

The cutting-edge research in combination with providing solutions to real-world problems was exactly what I was looking for. Dr. Scott Nissen, Dr. Phil Westra, and Dr. George Beck were extremely influential and supportive, in really shaping my career.  They always emphasized the importance of gaining experience in addition to diversifying the types of activities you undertake. They were the first to offer encouragement for me to broaden my experience through presenting the research project I was so passionate about at local, national, and international meetings. I always felt very fortunate to be surrounded and supported by people who shared my passion for weed science, and I still feel grateful for that to this day.

Derek Sebastian
Derek Sebastian (left), with longtime mentors and colleagues Dr. Scott Nissen (second from right), and Dr. Phil Westra (far right).

Q: Did you have a mentor, or industry professional, to whom you looked up to? What was your favorite piece of advice that they gave you in pursuing this career?

A: Some of the people I look up to the most, and get the most inspiration from, are my colleagues on Bayer’s Vegetation Management Stewardship Team (VMST). The team consists of Dr. David Spak, Dr. Harry Quicke, Dr. Jason Belcher, Dr. Case Medlin, and myself. Harry, specifically, always says, “If you work hard and are passionate about what you do, the job opportunities will follow.”

My passion has evolved into this desire to provide new solutions for real-world problems through my role in stewardship. It’s been incredibly exciting to work with a company like Bayer, who is one of very few in the industry on the forefront of discovery and innovation.

Q: Tell us more about being a college athlete. Do you apply that experience to your current role in any way? Are there any parallels between weed science and basketball that the audience for the blog might find interesting?

A: Being a collegiate athlete was the most difficult experience of my life, from both the physicality standpoint and the adversity that came with balancing both my athletic and academic career. I had to be both physically and mentally sharp at all times. But it was through the experiences I had as a college basketball player where I learned the many lessons I still utilize in many ways today.

I see many parallels between weed science and basketball. I learned the importance of focusing on the task at hand, whether it be preparing for a practice or game, and now preparing for results based presentations with my real-time observations and insights. I recognize the importance of always giving your 110%; competing at the college level required the same dedication and perseverance as my research does.  

Derek Sebastian
Derek Sebastian thanks his coaches and fans, and touches on his 4 years as a collegiate athlete at Creighton University during the Basketball team’s “Senior Night”.

Q: Since you’ve been in the industry, what has been the most interesting development that you have witnessed?

A:  I look back to the first meeting I had for my Masters, with Drs. David Spak, Chris Olsen, and Phil Westra back in 2010, at Colorado State University. We mapped out the lab project for Esplanade and indaziflam, and I saw so much creativity coming from the team in the sense that there was no plan to go directly from A to B, but instead to utilize all the different approaches that we had. The Esplanade field studies we performed showed results on cheatgrass that had never before been achieved. The outcome was 100-percent control 3-plus years after treatment – think about what that means for a weed that invades over 50 million acres in the US – this was extremely exciting! I remember being out in the fields with my Dad when we were first seeing these results and saying to each other, “This is a huge opportunity and something no one has ever seen before.”

That work has since unlocked a new tool for land managers to provide long-term and reliable control, all the while releasing native plants, increasing both the quality and quantity of pollinator habitats, enhancing wildlife habitats, and mitigating the risk of wildfires.

I also love seeing the work that has been done in places like Devil’s Backbone Open Spaceand Estes Park, which have been taken over by invasive weed species since I was in high school. Estes Park was one of the primary tourist sites before Rocky Mountain National Park, and I have so many family memories of going there multiple times every single year…and still do. Now there are cheatgrass trials being conducted there, and I think a great deal of excitement comes from this idea that I can provide solutions that will restore these areas and open spaces where people will be able to hike and play again, like I did when I was a little kid.

Q: As the youngest member of the VMST, how have you seen the use of social media contribute to the growth of the industry (or has it?)? What types of opportunities does it to you and your team? Why do you feel it’s important for companies within the industry, like Bayer, to continue enhancing their presence on social media to tell the story of what we do?

A: I think it’s important for people in this industry to have a personal touch while communicating the work we’re doing. It’s the most organic way for us to combine our passion with our purpose. I love tweeting about what I’m seeing in the field, because it shows people real results and how our work is restoring the natural vegetation in their communities.

I enjoy following various counties and cities on Twitter so that I’m up to date on what’s happening in their areas. I also follow federal agency accounts such as the National Park Park Service Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and US Fish and Wildlife because it gives me a better overall understanding of the problems that are out there – and how we can provide solutions based off what they’re saying.

Twitter helps me translate thoughts and concerns into actual transformation. It’s rather pivotal, because we didn’t always have this platform for the industry to have these conversations.

Q: What does “A day in the life” of Derek Sebastian look like? Tell us more about your role and what you look forward to as a member of the VMST.

A: Rather simply, my life is a combination of my faith, my family, and the passion I have for my job and the work I do.

No two days are the same, especially because the industry and our work is experiencing so much growth. Sometimes I’m in meetings to present results we’re seeing in the field, and other times I’m in those fields. I love being able to connect with different counties, and the people who are on the ground using our products and tools to solve real life problems.

Derek Sebastian

There are so many multifaceted projects, it’s impossible to not be excited about every new day

Want to hear more from Derek Sebastian? Follow him on Twitter at @DerekJSebastianfor the latest news and updates about the work being done by the Bayer’s very own VMST.


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