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Geneva summer scholars present agriculture research

Breanne Kisselstein
David Gadoury
Breanne Kisselstein, a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, presents her research on use of Arabidopsis as a model system to study resistance genes for grapevine powdery mildew.

A diverse array of students from across the nation spent this summer conducting research with faculty members and their teams at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva, New York. The program culminated in a poster session at Hobart and William Smith Colleges Aug. 1, where the 27 students presented research on topics ranging from sodium reduction in ranch dressing to root rot resistance in pea plants.

“One of the skills that every scientist needs is the ability to explain their work both to other scientists and to the public at large,” said Christine Smart, associate professor of plant pathology, who helped create the program in 2009. “Having the poster session helps them to build that skill set.”

The program aims to encourage students to attend graduate school and expose students to agricultural research by conducting their own research project under the guidance of faculty in the departments of entomology, food science, horticulture, and plant pathology and plant-microbe biology.

Tina Wu, a rising junior from Iowa State University, worked with plant pathology professor Thomas Burr, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and the Goichman Family Director of NYSAES, to untangle the interactions between two types of bacterial pathogens that debilitate grapevines. A microbiology major, Wu was not familiar with the problems caused by these pathogens prior to the program and found this research to be a meaningful way to broaden her interests to plants.

“To see the impacts on farmers and to know that we’re doing work that can possibly alleviate that is really exciting,” said Wu.

Silas Childs, a horticulture major from West Virginia University, studied a hybrid apple that’s a cross between a columnar variety with a favorable growth habit and a wild variety that is resistant to some common apple diseases.

“I learned a lot about how to do an experiment and the different techniques for plant breeding,” Childs said. “It’s been exciting to be part of a breeding program and understand the daily activities involved in breeding.”

It’s not only the students who benefit from the program, according to horticulture professor Susan Brown, with whom Childs worked.

“The students see things with a fresh set of eyes,” Brown said. “I think sometimes when you’re a scientist and you’ve been in a field for a long time, you’re used to looking at things in a set way.”

While the program is just nine weeks long, the students leave Geneva with invaluable research experience, a broadened understanding of agriculture and a professional poster to show for their time, Burr said.

“These students take this very seriously. They put in long hours to finish their research and be able to put together a poster they’re proud of,” he added.

The Geneva Summer Research Scholars Program is funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture, the NYSAES Director’s Excellence Fund, the CALS Diversity Grants Program, the CALS Alumni Association, Cornell’s Graduate School Diversity Initiative, the New York State Agricultural Society Foundation, the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority and grants awarded to individual faculty members.

Andrea Alfano ’14 is a writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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Melissa Osgood