Four undergraduate students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences recently completed paid internships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.
For 10 weeks, they worked firsthand with ARS scientists based at the Biosciences Institute at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro.
Nina Lyon-Bennett, assistant dean for academics for SAFHS, said the students' accomplishments mark the beginning of an undergraduate internship program that will provide UAPB students with professional work experience year-to-year.
Students who completed the internships were Erikton Goodloe and Trenten Wills, junior agriculture business majors; Madison Purifoy, a junior nutrition and food science major; and Kur'an Suluki, a sophomore agricultural engineering major.
During the internship, Wills said he enjoyed working with people of different backgrounds who shared a love of agriculture. He primarily worked on irrigation systems.
"Every day, my team and I found ourselves walking on various soil types at different fields," he said. "Despite the many fields and soil and plant types, one thing truly stays the same – plants need water. Working on water irrigation systems is the key to a farmer's success. Implementing technologies such as sensors, solar panels and probes have all helped ensure that our farmers produce a better yield and fulfill the agriculture motto, 'From farm to table.'"
Wills said the training was eye-opening because he could see firsthand the challenges facing farmers.
"There are many challenges in being a farmer," he said. "But when people come together and work as a team, they are bound to succeed."
Purifoy said she decided to sign up for the internship program to gain hands-on experience in laboratory and field research. Part of her responsibilities included analyzing the starch and sugar content of rice grown in different greenhouse conditions.
"This program has helped me get my foot in a door for conducting research in nutrition and food science," she said. "It has allowed me to learn the multiple facets of agriculture and has given me an idea of what being a researcher might be like in the near future."
Suluki said he was not sure what to expect during his first internship.
"I was greeted by many agricultural experts who bestowed upon me wisdom from their experiences within the field," he said. "I am fortunate to have been able to learn from those at Arkansas State University and will carry what I have learned with me as I move forward."
Goodloe said he has a better understanding of different agricultural fields thanks to the program. He also now has experience using cutting-edge agricultural technologies and techniques.
"Over the summer, I learned how to fly drones, change flow meters, collect water samples and utilize different forms of agricultural technology," he said. "I have learned so much by working with ARS personnel."
Goodloe said the internship experience complements his status as a USDA 1890 National Scholar.
"Being selected as a USDA 1890 National Scholar is a great honor and accomplishment," he said. "It's a blessing, and I couldn't have accomplished this without my family. Now I want to make my family proud."
Lyon-Bennett said the internships would not have been possible without the support of Sathish Ponniah, Ph.D, associate professor of plant science, who assisted with writing the proposal for the 9-week-paid internship program.
"Also, Michele Reba, acting research leader for ARS, Dr. Joseph Massey, research agronomist for the ARS Delta Water Management Research Unit, Dr. Arlene Adviento-Borbe, research agronomist and lead scientist for the USDA-ARS Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, Paddy Rice Research Group, and Dr. Thomas S. Risch, vice provost for research and technology transfer at ASU, provided extramural financial support, mentoring and experiential hands-on learning opportunities for our four students," she said. "This relationship between these units and UAPB speaks to the type of collaboration necessary to support undergraduate research and student success."
Risch said it was an honor to host the four UAPB students for their summer internships at ASU's Arkansas Biosciences Institute.
"ABI is an agricultural and medical research consortium dedicated to improving the health of Arkansans," he said. "Thus, it is important for us to work with universities throughout Arkansas. Students such as these UAPB interns will be the leaders of tomorrow that bring new and innovative approaches to agriculture and provide solutions for the challenges of feeding a growing global population. We hope to continue and grow this program in the future."
Adviento-Borbe, who worked mostly with Purifoy and Wills, said she appreciated UAPB-SAFHS sharing its students with ARS for the summer.
"We certainly had a productive program and hope to conduct more collaboration with UAPB," she said.
Massey said he enjoyed the chance to mentor UAPB students.
"Getting to know and work with these outstanding young people was the highlight of my summer," he said.
Will Hehemann is a writer/editor with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.