More than 100 HWS students have worked at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) over the past 20 years because of an informal request made on behalf of one student.
It all began when HWS Professor of Biology Tom Glover asked entomologists Charles Linn and Wendell Roelofs, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Insect Biochemistry, to place a student in a summer job in their laboratory.
Recently, a Memorandum of Understanding was created between Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the NYSAES, a 125-year-old facility that aims to “advance a sustainable agriculture and food system through innovative research, education and extension programs that improve human health, protect the environment and support economic development to address state and global needs.”
The academic agreement formalizes the relationship between the two organizations so they can continue to provide unique opportunities for collaborative research between students and faculty. Through the NYSAES’ four academic departments, entomology (the study of insects); food science and technology; horticultural sciences and plant pathology, students are exposed to areas of research not conducted on campus.
“The agreement,” says Glover, who is the liaison between the Colleges and the Station and an adjunct professor at Cornell, “melds the institutions together in ways that are often subtle, but always helpful.”
“Open-ended research is so different from classroom labs. It’s a really great experience. Students can end up doing some very sophisticated work, much of which becomes published in scientific journals.”
Qualified and accepted HWS students can participate in research during the summer or academic year, including independent study, honors work and the research semester, in which students are permitted to conduct research at the Station in lieu of two courses in a particular semester.
According to the agreement, the Colleges’ goal is to place 10 to 20 students annually in research positions at the Station. Students may receive course credit or monetary compensation for their research work. Currently, Sarah Davidson ’08 and Kathleen Kohl ’08 are working with Christine D. Smart, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology.
“Students get to experience working in a professional lab and help with important research projects whose results are utilized in agriculture practices all over New York State,” says Davidson. “Working in Professor Chris Smart’s lab helped me to take what I have learned at HWS and apply it in a new way. My research at the Station is a unique experience that I can talk about when I apply to medical school or any other future employers I might have.”
Meaghan McCarthy ’07 worked with Smart two years in a row, the last time on “the molecular detection of fungal pathogens.” A premed major, McCarthy laughed about people not understanding the tie-in between human medicine and her work in a plant pathology lab but explained, “it has less to do with what type of pathogens they are, and more to do with the molecular biology technique – DNA hybridization for detection methods.”
She saw her experience at the station as an example of the opportunities students have at HWS: “Since HWS is an undergraduate institution, you’re not competing with grad students for research. The summer science programs span all disciplines … in biology alone you have me working at the Station, others working on the grounds here or at the bog doing ecology stuff … it’s really a huge range.”
Over the past five years, Smart has worked with nine undergraduates. “As you can see,” says the plant pathologist as she calls attention to a list of the student names, “I love having undergraduates in my program.”
This summer, Katie Mancuso ’09, Travis Blum ’10, Samantha Tandle ’10, Leslie Kopke ’10, Ryan Kincaid ’11, Michael Ellis ’10 and Chi Poon ’09 will all be conducting research at the NYSAES, either with Station researchers or HWS faculty who also work there.
“Working at the Station helps students crystallize career plans and gives them practical experience,” says Glover, “making them better applicants to graduate school, medical school or for whatever they want to do. It’s a good, high quality experience.” Davidson agrees, “The Colleges’ partnership with the Station is such a great way for HWS students to get involved and participate in important research projects that enhance their undergraduate experience.”