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By Madeline Hanscom
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  • Animal Science

Students in the TST BOCES New Visions Program can make the most of their senior year in high school by partnering with select Cornell University research and extension programs. Two Lehman Alternative Community School students, Cosmo Wessell and Warachi Medina, seized this opportunity to engage in hands-on research in the Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP). Read about the impact the New Visions and NMSP had on their career goals.

The honors-level New Visions Program caters to high school seniors who wish to dive deeper into engineering, medical sciences or applied life sciences. Maureen Zorn, the New Visions’ Life Sciences and Applied Scientific Research teacher, said: “We want to send well-rounded individuals out into the world. Students get exposed to a wide variety of learning experiences, from the classroom to the laboratory, to a professional setting.”

Several Cornell University programs within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences take on New Visions students, offering them the opportunity to participate in professional development sessions and work in faculty programs.

Wessell and Medina joined the NMSP in October 2022 after approaching Quirine Ketterings, professor of nutrient management in CALS and team leader of NMSP, with a request to join the team and learn more about applied research in nutrient management.

“When Warachi and Cosmo emailed me, they indicated their interest in our work and gaining skills in field and laboratory research,” Ketterings said. “I met with the students and Maureen to discuss our projects, and it was quickly clear that our rainfall simulation and greenhouse gas emission studies would fit their interests really well.”

“When she explained the different work that she was doing, I was caught immediately,” said Medina.

Wessell agreed, saying that he loved working on projects having to do with sustainability. “Pretty much for as long as I can remember, every time I’ve had a chance to choose what a project is about, I’ve chosen something around climate change,” he said. Both students wanted to “not just further, but explore” their interest in science, research and the environment.

On their first day, Wessell and Medina joined Bhupinder Jatana, then a postdoctoral researcher with the NMSP, to take soil samples at the Cornell University Ruminant Center in Harford, New York. While working on Jatana’s rainfall simulation project, the students collected soil samples and processed them at the laboratory.

In their first three months, Wessell and Medina mostly worked with the rainfall simulation project, evaluating the impact of various manure sources and application rates on nitrogen and phosphorus loss through leaching. Then, after winter break, they joined the project team assessing greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural fields. For this project, the students worked closely with NMSP on-farm research coordinator Juan Carlos Ramos Tanchez and postdoctoral researcher Perejitei Bekewe.

While both students pursued working with the NMSP because of their interest in environmental justice, they were drawn in by the hands-on nature of the work, increasingly curious about the interplay between agriculture and sustainability. This project in particular helped further their understanding of the intricacies involved with soils, nutrient management and dairy sustainability. Their appreciation for farmers and the work that goes into farming grew.

“It gets extremely precise; if you get it wrong, you can get fined or destroy your land. It’s a scientific business,” Wessell said.

His experience with the New Vision Program and NMSP urged him to think more critically about the complexities of climate change.

“I’ve studied environmental policy every chance I’ve gotten, but I didn’t realize how intertwined agriculture is with environmental issues until working with NMSP,” Wessell said. “Now I can definitely see myself going into some sort of agriculture related career.”

Medina agreed. “Although I grew up on a small hobby farm in a very agriculturally rich area, I was always more drawn to environmental issues, rather than farming. I saw the two as separate, until NMSP,” he said. “In many ways this program was instrumental in helping me see how connected agricultural practices are to the environment, and I am excited to continue on this path as I begin my freshman year in CALS studying environmentalism and agriculture.”

In addition to gaining experience with NMSP staff, the students developed a research report and poster, and presented their work at the Junior Researcher Symposium that was held on Cornell’s campus May 15. The opportunity to develop public speaking and scientific writing skills was also beneficial.

“My experiences with the New Vision Program and NMSP contributed greatly to my academic ambition, and I feel much more confident heading into college now,” Medina said.

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