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Samuel Wallace is a senior studying agricultural engineering at North Carolina State University. He joined Cornell CALS’ Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) as an intern this summer. Read about the focus of Wallace’s internship and discover where he hopes his career takes him.

What sparked your interest in agricultural engineering?

I started with studying general engineering but discovered a passion for biological and agricultural engineering through one of my introductory classes. I worked in a precision agriculture lab during my sophomore year and got exposed to agricultural waste modeling through multiple projects of graduate students at the lab. Shortly before coming to Cornell for my summer internship, I helped with a project focused on sustainability and soil fertility, conducting soil measurements, refining organic soil amendments, and improving cover cropping practices. 

What brought you to NMSP?

I spent a lot of time exploring agricultural engineering at NCSU during my first three years there, but I wanted to expand my horizons and gain fieldwork experience before my senior year. During my internship search, I found the NMSP website and a position announcement for a precision agriculture intern. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me, so I reached out to Dr. Quirine Ketterings, who leads the NMSP. She was excited to hear from me and connected me with a few lab members so I could get to know the team and projects beforehand. This intrigued me further, leading me to apply for the internship and join the team. 

What were your responsibilities with NMSP? 

I worked closely with Dr. Subhashree Srinivasagan, a Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability postdoctoral fellow with the NMSP. Srinivasagan investigates use of precision agriculture technologies, including drone and satellite imagery, for conducting on-farm research. To support her work, I helped with drone flights over corn silage fields on local dairy farms and with processing and analyzing the images we collected using a variety of software tools. The project goal is to evaluate if these images can be used to help farmers estimate their crop yield, develop management zones and evaluate on-farm research.

What are some key skills you gained during your internship?

As part of this project, I had the opportunity to become more proficient in software programs like R, Python, QGIS and Pix4D, and I am sure I will be able to apply these skills moving forward. Aside from the technical skills I gained, I also learned about collaborating with a team and communicating science in a professional environment by learning from peers and mentors, by presenting on my work at one of our weekly NMSP team meetings, and by participating in the Department of Animal Science summer internship poster session.

What was your favorite part of the summer?

My mentor was in charge of organizing the internship program this summer, and we did numerous trips with the NMSP team. I really enjoyed two trips in particular: one to Bel Canto Farm, and the other to northern New York where we visited Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, met with crop consultants of Champlain Valley Agronomics and their interns, and visited the Miner Agriculture Research Institute and Ideal Dairy Farms. I appreciated that I was able to attend both of these trips because it showed me the stark contrast between different styles of farms, specifically those which are research farms and commercial farms.

That being said, all of the trips were memorable because I got to spend time exploring my field of interest. I also really enjoyed the trips, as they gave me a chance to get to know my cohort (the eight other interns involved with NMSP and the PRODAIRY interns) and explore the academic and personal interests that we shared.

How did this internship contribute to your career goals?

My work with the NMSP team – especially the precision ag group – was amazing, not just academically but also in terms of personal growth. Just as I had hoped, this project integrated everything I previously loved about agricultural engineering labs and classes. My experience this summer combined on-farm research with technical fieldwork and introduced me to what it would be like to pursue a graduate degree and possibly work in academia. I loved getting to know the staff, postdocs, and Ph.D. students, and seeing them apply unique problem-solving processes to our projects.

Altogether, this helped me realize that I see myself in graduate school in the future. While I am not sure exactly what school I am going to attend, I am excited for the growth opportunities that academia and research will provide. Beyond that, I am looking forward to contributing to the success of a wide variety of farms by putting the data I collect into action.

Madeline Hanscom is a writer for the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program.

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