Undergraduates spend summer developing extension and research skills with UNL mentors

Undergraduates spend summer developing extension and research skills with UNL mentors Friday, August 12, 2016

Fran Benne | Design and Communications Specialist

Undergraduate Research and Extension Experiential Learning Fellowship participants

Undergraduate Research and Extension Experiential Learning Fellowship participants are (left to right): Rebecca Johnson, Iowa State University; Becca Clay, ISU; Martina La Vallie, Augustana University; Sarah Morton, UNL; Natalie Holste, Missouri University of Science and Technology; Joey Geisler, UNL; Omar Muniz, University of Texas-El Paso and Andi Nichols, Oklahoma State University.

Eight students from around the Midwest were awarded an Undergraduate Research and Extension Experiential Learning Fellowship in Integrated Agronomic Systems this summer at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. This 10-week program which finished Aug. 11, provided a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to work directly with faculty mentors in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture with expertise on corn/soybean cropping systems, cover crop/crop residue management, pasture ecology and soil management. The fellowship was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-NIFA-AFRI Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences Education and Literacy Initiative.

Undergraduate awardees demonstrated an intellectual interest in agronomic, crop, plant, soil, or related sciences and hailed from Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. Participating students included Becca Clay from Iowa State University, Joey Geisler from UNL, Natalie Holste from Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rebecca Johnson from ISU, Martina La Vallie from Augustana University, Sarah Morton from UNL, Omar Muniz from University of Texas-El Paso and Andi Nichols from Oklahoma State University.

Undergraduate Research and Extension Experiential Learning Fellowship UNL faculty staff grad students

Leading and assisting with the Undergraduate Research and Extension Experiential Learning Fellowship in Integrated Agronomic Systems program are faculty, postdocs and graduate students. Front row, left to right: Katja Koehler-Cole, Michelle Howell Smith, Ashley Burns-Hassebrook and Humberto Blanco. Back row, left to right: John Guretzky, Daren Redfearn, Kenny Roche and Manbir Rakkar. Roger Elmore is not pictured.

Director of the project was John Guretzky, grassland systems ecologist. Co-PIs were Humberto Blanco, soil scientist, Roger Elmore, UNL Extension cropping systems specialist and Daren Redfearn, forage/crop residue management specialist. Michelle Howell-Smith, Nebraska Academy for Methodology, Analytics and Psychometrics, assessed the outcome of the project.

According to Guretzky, interest is growing in the use of cover crops and annual forages in integrated agronomic systems to increase forage for grazing livestock and improve soil ecosystem services. Yet, much remains unknown about management of such systems and their impacts on corn/soybean yields, forage production and soil and environmental quality. Thus, developing student skills in conducting research, communicating findings, and educating crop and livestock producers in this emerging area of agriculture is a priority.

The student learning goals included:

  • Improve understanding of integrated agronomic systems.
  • Learn how agronomic experiments are designed.
  • Measure and analyze fundamental crop and soil variables.
  • Develop an extension case study to address a producer concern.
  • Effectively communicate extension and research outcomes.
  • Develop networks with other students, government scientists, industry leaders, faculty, and extension personnel in the field of integrated agronomic systems.
  • Acquire specific skills necessary to apply to graduate school.

“Our goal for the students completing the fellowship was to matriculate to a graduate program in one of these fields,” Guretzky said.

Poster presentation by Becca Clay at Undergraduate Research and Extension Experiential Learning Fellowship

Becca Clay, an undergraduate from Iowa State University, presents her research poster on how grazing cover crops impact soil properties at the Goodding Learning Center, Plant Sciences Hall, UNL East Campus.

On Aug. 5 the students presented posters on their research this summer in the Goodding Learning Center in Plant Sciences Hall. Each were questioned on how farmers might adopt or apply their findings.

ISU student, Clay, whose research project explored how grazing cover crops impact soil properties, said her project and the program in general, taught her about the potential of crop and livestock integration for efficiencies in production and biology.

“I was originally enticed to apply for the Integrated Agronomic Systems Fellowship because it was unique in that it included research and extension, while other programs typically focus on one or the other, Clay said. “The past 10 weeks validated my initial excitement—I took ownership of a research project, shadowed an extension agent, visited various research sites around Nebraska, and relayed my research findings through various media. I am excited to present my findings at the ASA, CSA, SSSA Meetings in November and possibly publish a paper with my research mentor.”

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