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Alumni Broncos for Life

Sonia Rios '12, Plant Science

Sonia Rios

When Sonia Rios was a child, she spent a lot of time on a citrus grove managed by her father.

The memory is a fond one for Rios, and it’s one that inevitably inspired her to pursue her career.

“It’s kind of funny that I ended up following in my dad’s footsteps” Rios says. “Most kids don’t want to be anything like their parents. I ended up just like mine.”

The Cal Poly Pomona alumna comes from a family of agronomists, a fitting upbringing considering her latest role as an area subtropical horticulture farm advisor for the University of California’s Cooperative Extension.

The position combines research with outreach, and has Rios working directly with growers, experts in the field, and the public to report developments and provide solutions for issues impacting the industry.

Since taking the position in November 2014, Rios has been busy developing a subtropical program for Riverside County and maintaining the work of her predecessor in San Diego County.

It’s an impressive feat because this is the first time someone has covered such a large territory – and Rios is more than prepared for the challenge.

“I love visiting farms, I love trying to help and solve problems,” Rios says. “And the teaching part is very fun, too. It’s a little bit of everything, and I love it.”

A graduate of Cal Poly Pomona’s plant science program, Rios was active in several on-campus programs, including the Student Alumni Association, Rose Float team, livestock show team, Los Robles Horticulture and Los Rancheros Agronomy.

She also was an agriculture ambassador, an experience that Rios considers crucial.

“I had the chance to teach people the benefits of my program,” Rios says. “I was the one that called schools, set up lectures and talked to students. It really played a big part in preparing me for what I do today.”

She adds that having a supportive department was critical to her success at Cal Poly Pomona and beyond.

“Our faculty would go above and beyond to make sure that we would succeed,” Rios says. “That made the difference. It gave us the security that we would always have the help that we needed, and that we would always be successful. We really were a family.”

Even before graduating from the program in 2012, Rios was working as a staff research associate for an agronomy farm advisor covering Tulare and Kings counties.

She continued her education at Cal State Fresno, earning a master’s in plant science in 2014.

These days, when Rios isn’t busy visiting farms, schools and other venues, she’s taking complex research and publishing it in high-level scientific journals. She also takes that information and makes it accessible for non-experts. 

Focused primarily on preventive work, Rios is dealing with the Asian citrus psyllid, a nasty little bug that has already cost Florida 70 percent of its citrus industry, and the polyphagous shot hole borer, which damages avocado trees and leads to less yield of the prized fruit.

“If we don’t do it, no one else will,” Rios says. “And that’s probably the scariest thing about this field. We are the ones expected to invent a new plant, solve the water problem, save tree species from being wiped out. I really want to choose the right projects that will help us not just locally, but worldwide.”

And for Rios, there’s another source of inspiration: Her late father.

“I want to carry on the torch,” she says. “He probably would be jumping for joy if he could see me now.”