Hard work, a positive attitude and a series of fortunate meetings led Justin Quetone Moss to a career in agriculture education.
Thanks to his recent promotion to head of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Oklahoma State University, Moss now has the opportunity to help a new crop of students.
A first-generation college student who graduated from McAlester (Oklahoma) High School, Moss attended Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton. An advisor helped Moss get a job at the McAlester Country Club, where he began learning about grass while caring for the greens. He learned about OSU’s turf management option in its horticulture program and headed to Stillwater.
“I thought I was going to be a turf golf course guy, hanging out with people like Tiger Woods,” Moss said.
But during an internship at a golf course in Little Rock, Arkansas, Moss met two turf professors from the University of Arkansas who were doing product testing to enhance root growth. They asked Moss to help, and Moss soon found himself on a different path — one that led back to OSU.
“It was all totally by chance,” he said. “Everything I’ve done I’ve stumbled into, honestly.”
He decided to pursue a master’s degree at OSU, doing studies on water quality and looking at water runoff on golf courses. And for his doctorate in crop science, Moss built a device capable of delivering a precise spray for lawn fertilization.
After earning three degrees at OSU, Dr. Moss spent three years at the University of Wyoming before OSU offered him a new position that would allow him to focus on drought and water conservation.
“OSU is my home and my university, and I came back to have an impact here,” Moss said.
In the past 11-plus years, Moss has focused 70 percent of his efforts on research via the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station and the rest on sharing that knowledge through OSU Extension.
Moss and many others in horticulture work on a warm-season Bermuda grasses breeding program to develop turf grasses for professional football, baseball and soccer teams. The goal is to create warm-season grasses that can handle the cold well to help with water conservation.
“The idea is that if you can take out cold-season grasses and put in warm-season grasses, it will almost immediately cut your water costs by 50 percent,” Moss said.
Dr. Dennis Martin, professor and Extension/research turfgrass specialist, has known Moss since his undergraduate days and is thrilled to see him leading the department.
It has been exciting and a privilege to serve in the mentoring of Dr. Moss over the years and to see his progression into a caring, compassionate, incredibly talented scientist, educator and leader,” Martin said.
As a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma — he is also affiliated with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Cherokee Nation — Moss serves as a co-advisor for the OSU chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Science (MANRRS), a professional development society open to all students that offers help with public speaking, job applications, résumés and more.
“A lot of the students who come through MANRRS don’t have a lot of support,” he said. “I try to make those students feel at home and know that I care. … One hundred percent of my success is because of the training and help that I got here. … I had somebody care for me and I want to do that with the students I work with.”
Moss is now perfectly positioned to cultivate the next generation of agricultural leaders, scientists and innovators. With the tremendous support the college has received from donors like Kayleen and Larry Ferguson, Moss and other faculty members can now amplify their influence, whether in the classroom, the lab or the field.
Ferguson College of Agriculture Associate Dean Dr. Cynda Clary said the Fergusons’ gift will allow students the opportunity to hone their skills and knowledge in modern facilities that can spark career interest, improve engagement and allow faculty members to take better advantage of the many ways students want to learn.
“Our commitment is to provide students with cutting-edge educational and collegiate experiences that focus on developing solutions to real-world issues and challenges,” she said. “The college’s longstanding national and international reputation in these areas is reflected in the caliber of graduates and faculty, such as Dr. Moss, who have been part of the Ferguson College of Agriculture.”