This summer has seen a fresh crop of Hobart and William Smith students working at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES). Three of these positions were made possible through a generous grant from the Brenda and David Rickey Foundation, established by Geneva native David and his wife Brenda as one of several means of supporting the Geneva community. Amy Norris, Deepa Oja and Marcie Day, all William Smith seniors, are this year’s three Rickey Scholars.
This is the second year students have been supported by the grant from the Foundation. The Colleges’ science departments were presented with $45,000 last year to fund students in research they choose to undertake at the NYSAES. The grant sponsors three different students each summer for three years.
The funding also helps build upon the relationship the Colleges have with the NYSAES. Professor of Biology Thomas Glover, who oversees students doing summer research, sent the first student from the Colleges in 1980. Since then, hundreds of students have worked out at the NYSAES’ fields and labs, whether for independent studies, Honors projects, or summer or school year jobs and internships.
The NYSAES is part of a system of agricultural research stations which are associated with a large university in the area; Cornell University is the affiliate institution for this station. Glover says working with the professors and staff at the NYSAES provides invaluable experience for students. Students receive great mentors through their research projects and learn things that they might not learn on campus. Additionally, some students go on to graduate study at Cornell and even obtain Ph.D.’s because of the time spent with Cornell faculty and the station’s researchers.
“We’re lucky to have [a station]. Students find out what they can do with biology besides medicine and the health professions. They see they can do so much more,” says Glover.
This year’s Rickey Scholars exemplify that diversity of scientific perspectives. Norris, the only returning researcher of the group, is studying certain grape pathogens in the department of plant pathology and plant microbiology under Professor Robert C. Seem. She worked in his lab last summer as a participant in Cornell’s summer scholars program, and also for five weeks during the winter. She is studying fungus powdery mildew on grapevines and the effects low temperatures have on its growth and development. Norris was “excited to continue working on the same project” and finds the research and its whole process “fascinating.” She hopes to pursue this research into a Ph.D. program, eventually studying microbiology after graduation. Norris is a biology major with a minor in Asian languages and cultures. She participates in Big Brothers Big Sisters on campus and will be a teaching fellow with the biology department in the fall.
Seem, who holds a Ph.D. in plant pathology from Pennsylvania State University, specializes in the epidemiology, biology, and control of fruit and vegetable diseases with emphasis on the development of decision support systems ranging from simple models of disease to sophisticated simulation models.
New to the NYSAES, Oja is doing research with Professor Susan K. Brown, who holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California, Davis. As a member of the Graduate Fields of both Horticulture and Plant Breeding, Brown works with students on apple breeding and genetic improvement and integration of genomic tools in the breeding of clonal fruit tree crops.
Under her guidance, Oja is researching apple trees and why some of their progeny/offspring display similar characteristics and some do not. This should hopefully tell them where differences in apple trees’ architecture originate. Oja, a biology major and public policy minor, is interested in the genetics aspect of biology, and her project allows her to look into the genetic components of apple breeding.
“Doing this has allowed me to actually see and use what I have learned in my biology classes at HWS. It has also allowed me to see what doing full-time research involves,” she says.
Much different from apples and grapes, Day’s focus is plant pathogens, under the guidance of Associate Professor Christine D. Smart and graduate student Amara Camp, who is working toward a Ph.D. in the field. Day’s work takes her out into the field, where she studies cover crops, plants grown to help manage soil. Her research looks at how these crops affect plant pathogens and how the effects can contribute to soil health and suppressing pathogens. Day is interested in going on to graduate school and believes the research will provide great experience for it.
“It is a great opportunity to master common laboratory techniques I’ve learned at HWS and learn new ones as well. The experience has helped me see a lot that goes into these kinds of research projects like time management and creativity,” she says.
The senior has a double major in biology and environmental studies and a double minor in education and Latin American studies. Day is a part of the education program, going for biology adolescent education. She also is a Rotaract member and volunteers for the Geneva Community Center Teen Garden Club.
Smart holds a Ph.D. in botany and plant pathology from Michigan State University. She focuses on utilizing genomic technologies to identify and improve control strategies for vegetable diseases. She is currently studying two severe bacterial diseases (bacterial canker of tomato and black rot of cabbage), as well as the disease Phytophthora Blight, caused by a water mold.