Cultivating Higher Yielding Scientists

Author: 
Jake Miller
Newsletter Issue: 
March 2016

Maryann Moore

Above: Maryann Moore, CenUSA Internship Program Coordinator. Photo: Jake Miller

Scientists help solve problems; from breeding insect-resistant crops to making sure farmers get the most out their land with high yielding plants and healthy soil. CenUSA created its summer internship program to prepare future scientists for graduate school and other research positions.

Every summer since 2012 CenUSA has taken applicants of varying disciplines from across the country, fifty-five students have gone through the program overall, through its internship program. Once selected, interns are sent to labs and universities across the Midwest for their research experience. The inter disciplinary nature of the internship is intentional. Working with students from different areas of study encourages viewpoint sharing and can lead to creative problem solving. As a result, many interns work on research projects that aren’t directly related to their majors.

Katherine Manz, PhD student at the University of Tennessee, interned with CenUSA during the summer of 2012 before completing her undergraduate degree in chemistry. Manz spent her time with CenUSA working with Keri Jacobs, Iowa State University agriculture economist and CenUSA co-project director, determining if growing grasses for biofuel was economically viable.

Like many other CenUSA interns Manz had been on the fence regarding graduate school before starting her internship. One educational session led by Raj Raman, professor of agriculture and bioenegineering at Iowa State University and CenUSA education co-director, stood out to Manz and influenced her decision to pursue graduate education. Raman spoke to the interns about what to expect from graduate school, how to apply, and what to do to get into a good program. Raman’s presentation laid out the path to graduate school and ultimately made it a more obtainable goal. In addition, Raman made it a point to meet one-on-one with each of the interns during the summer to uncover students’ goals and to construct a framework to make their goals happen.

In addition to lab experience, CenUSA takes interns on field trips to nearby facilities to showcase various types of research, explained Maryann Moore, CenUSA internship program coordinator.

“We stair-step opportunities for them,” said Moore. The first field trips are to pilot scale research sites and towards the end of the summer the trips are to larger operations. Students toured both Iowa State’s Biocentury Research Farm outside of Boone, Iowa and DuPont’s new commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. The interns also participate in the CenUSA annual meeting where they present their work at a poster session. Members of the CenUSA Advisory Board and research and extension collaborators provide feedback and networking opportunities to the young scientists.

Note: Maryann Moore recently accepted a new position at Iowa State University and after summer 2016 will no longer be the internship program coordinator. We would like to thank her for her excellent work over the years and wish her the best of luck in the future!