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Cornell AgriTech’s graduate students foster local interest in agricultural science

Above, SAGES scholarship recipients Annaleigh DeBoover and Corrine Brown touring a Cornell AgriTech greenhouse with graduate student David Strickland. Photo by Erin Flynn

A cornerstone of the Cornell AgriTech mission is to train current and future scientists to lead the next wave of breakthroughs. Faculty on the Geneva campus guide graduate students in applying their research to the agricultural industries of New York, shaping the students into future leaders. In turn, these graduate students nurture the hopes of aspiring scientists through a high school scholarship program.

“Careers in agricultural science can open so many doors, and the first step in the process is gaining support to pursue this kind of a career,” said David Strickland, chair of the Student Association at the Geneva Experiment Station (SAGES) scholarship committee. “There are so many bright students in the Finger Lakes area with the potential to succeed in agriculture, and Geneva graduate students want to support their journey.”

SAGES, an organization of postdoctoral associates and graduate students, is celebrating its 10th year of offering scholarships to area high school students. The organization raises money each year by harvesting apples from Cornell AgriTech research orchards and pressing them for homemade cider at the Cornell Food Venture Center pilot plant. Once the juice is pressed and bottled, students sell the cider around the Geneva campus.

Since SAGES started the scholarship program, it has given out a cumulative $10,000 to area high school students. Each year the organization sends an announcement email to all high schools in Ontario, Yates, Seneca, Tompkins, Cayuga, Schuyler, and Wayne counties. From the applicant pool, two students entering agriculture programs in two- and four-year institutions receive $500. Recipients are selected by a multidisciplinary group of graduate students, and criteria for winning the scholarships are a demonstrated passion for agriculture and strong leadership potential.

Corrine Brown and Annaleigh DeBoover of Midlakes High School received this year’s SAGES scholarships. As part of the award, the students toured the Cornell AgriTech campus to learn about the many components of agricultural research. Both students grew up on area farms and plan to go on to agricultural science fields of study.

“I’ve always known I wanted to work in agriculture, but seeing research on the Cornell AgriTech campus opened my eyes to so many possibilities,” said Annaleigh DeBoover, who will be attending the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cobleskill in the fall. “I’d love to eventually study at Cornell and be able to bring the expertise I gain there back to my family farm.”

Brown also plans to pursue a career in the agricultural sciences and has enrolled in an animal science program for the fall.

Of the 20 students who received SAGES scholarships over the past decade, many are still working in agriculture in some capacity. Sean Murphy, a research technician at Cornell AgriTech is one example. Murphy is currently working in the lab of Sarah Pethybridge, an assistant professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology. He received an associate in applied science degree in horticulture from Finger Lakes Community College and then earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture business management from SUNY Morrisville.

“The SAGES scholarship that I received back in 2012 helped me through a semester at FLCC and provided the funds I needed to purchase textbooks and other supplies that were required for classes,” said Murphy. “The scholarship program is a great asset to any recipient, and I genuinely hope it will continue in the future.”