Gretchen Wittmeyer, Cornell CALS agricultural science major ‘24, recently served as a Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) intern, learning about CCE and conducting soil research. Read on to learn about Wittmeyer’s internship experience.
What led you to study agricultural science at Cornell University?
Before transferring to Cornell last year, I studied biology at Alfred State University for two years. I chose to switch my focus to agricultural sciences at Cornell, with a concentration in business management, because the career opportunities associated with an undergraduate agricultural science degree really appealed to me.
How did you get involved with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE)?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Western New York, so when my sister suggested that I join the Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) in November of 2022 to explore a new aspect of agriculture, I loved the idea. I started to work with Quirine Ketterings, leader of NMSP and professor of nutrient management, and Olivia Godber, NMSP research associate, on software-based projects evaluating greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms. Quirine soon recommended I pursue a CCE summer internship that would allow me to work with Janice Degni, team leader & field crops specialist with the South-Central New York Dairy & Field Crops Team. I saw this as a meaningful way for me to build my career and explore professional opportunities, so I applied.
What were your primary responsibilities as an intern?
My CCE internship included two key components: fieldwork to collect samples for research and extension work. I collected many soil samples with NMSP Ph.D. student Gurpreet Kaur, who is evaluating the effects of manure and fertilizer application on soil microbes, as well as the linkages between yield and yield stability, and soil carbon and microbiology educators. A lot of the field research was time sensitive, which was very different from the software work and database research I had previously done for NMSP. For extension work, I joined Janice with the South-Central New York Dairy & Field Crops Team. I also participated in NMSP trips with the other interns to visit and meet with farmers, other research farms, and the Chobani plant in New Berlin, New York. And, at the end of my internship, I presented a poster as part of the Animal Science 2023 Summer Internship Poster Event and at the CCE Summer Internship Reception.
What did your internship teach you about CCE?
Shadowing Janice throughout her work as a field crops specialist, I learned that CCE educators are involved in many different projects. Between research projects and farm consulting, CCE educators are on the go all the time, all over the county (or across several counties). Before my time with CCE, I never really had a clear idea of what CCE was, or what they did. Since working with CCE, I have begun to appreciate the scope of their work, and the many jobs included in being an extension educator.
How did your internship influence your career goals?
Since shadowing Janice, I’ve found that working with farmers to help them improve their operations is appealing to me. I appreciated the rapport that was built between good extension educators and farmers. Knowing that facilitating a change in a farmer’s routine takes convincing, it was significant to me to see that they will trust extension educators and take their advice. I have started to consider ag-related consulting as a potential career choice because of this experience.
I think it’s likely that I will try out some consulting work after I graduate. I am excited to continue exploring my interests.
Madeline Hanscom is a writer for the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program.
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