Cornell AgriTech’s Summer Research Scholars Program is increasing the number of underrepresented student participants and boosting expertise in digital agricultural technology, thanks to a grant of nearly $500,000 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
The Summer Scholars program offers undergraduates an opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research projects alongside faculty members at the Geneva, New York, campus. Over a nine-week period, student interns explore one of three areas: entomology, horticulture and plant pathology/plant microbe-biology.
“Undergraduate students really get boots-on-the-ground experience,” said Kyle Wickings, associate professor of entomology and director of the program. That experience includes professional development, which involves field trips to working farms, mentoring from current AgriTech grad students and postdocs, lectures from experts on a variety of topics, and a poster session at the end of the summer. “Their immersion into the field of agriculture often serves as a springboard for future careers,” he said.
More than 200 students have participated in the program since its founding in 2008, an average of approximately 20 students per session. The NIFA grant will enable the Summer Scholars program to expand by 12 to 15 students annually for the next five years, in the process drawing from a more diverse pool of applicants. Wickings will work with existing and new contacts at historically Black college and universities and other academic institutions serving underrepresented groups to promote the program. He also will promote the program through posts on opportunity boards hosted by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, as well as other agriculture programs such as the California State University Agricultural Research Institute.
The grant will also allow the program to increase its emphasis on digital agriculture in alignment with the USDA’s Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools initiative.
“Digital agriculture and computational approaches will be critical tools for adapting agricultural management under a changing climate,” Wickings said. “Whether using drones to look at plant system quality or sensors to monitor for pests, plant health or soil health, our producers need help solving problems they will face in the future. We see it as our mission at Cornell AgriTech to equip our scholars with experience in these tools and to make sure we’ve got people coming through our labs who are staying excited about doing ag research.”
The Summer Scholars program has played a key role in attracting undergraduates to continue on as graduate students on the Geneva campus, as well as supporting the agriculture talent pipeline in New York state and beyond.
Rey Cotto-Rivera, a Ph.D. candidate in the field of entomology, participated in the Summer Scholars program in 2016 while he was an undergrad at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. He worked in the lab of Ping Wang, professor of entomology, where he examined the genetic variations of different insect populations to help improve integrated pest management practices.
“The Cornell AgriTech Summer Research Scholars Program provides a great opportunity to explore research interests in different fields, and it was a crucial step in my undergraduate training,” said Cotto-Rivera. “The program helped in my professional development and played a key role in my decision to pursue graduate education on the Geneva campus.”
The 2022 Summer Research Scholars Program runs June 1 through July 29. Applications are due Feb. 4, 2022. Participants receive housing and a stipend of $4,825. Learn more about the program at cals.cornell.edu/cornell-agritech/our-expertise/student-programs/summer-scholars.
Jim Catalano is a freelance writer in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
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