Summer Interns Spend Day in PPEM

Posted: June 29, 2016

Dr. Alyssa Collins writes about undergraduate student interns and the beneficial day they spent in the Dept. of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology (PPEM) on June 29.
(L-R) SEAREC interns Allyson Balmer and Kate Mobley, SEAREC Research Technologist Sadie Smith | Image: Nancy Wenner, Penn State University

(L-R) SEAREC interns Allyson Balmer and Kate Mobley, SEAREC Research Technologist Sadie Smith | Image: Nancy Wenner, Penn State University


Much of the science we do would not be possible without the help of student research assistants. This is especially true for applied field-based research, where much of the activity is concentrated during one busy time of year. For fruit, vegetable, and field crops studies, maintaining research plots and gathering data is critically important and often requires many hands. But this doesn’t mean these students do nothing but weed and pick produce all summer.

Interns at the Penn State Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SEAREC) in Lancaster County, PA, also participate in a summer-long academic and professional enrichment series. During their time at SEAREC they not only work with faculty and educators to support experiments and demonstrations, but they also hear seminars on subjects ranging from fertility to weed science, do hands-on learning for topics such as plant disease diagnosis, and hit the road for field trips.

Similarly, the Fruit Research and Extension Center (FREC) in Adams County, PA, is also home to experiential learning opportunities for students. Interns not only become experts in identifying important tree fruit diseases through evaluating research experiments going on in the field, but also gain experience in horticultural management of fruit trees. In addition, students participate in on-farm research with grower cooperators and field days held at FREC and at the University of Maryland.

On June 29 students and interns from SEAREC, FREC, and Gettysburg College travelled to University Park for a day-long program in the department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology (PPEM). The visiting interns spent time with PPEM members to learn about their research projects and ask questions about graduate school.

PPEM undergraduate Sara Getson, incoming Ph.D. student Christopher Ramage, graduate students Christopher Smyth and Laura del Sol Bautista Jalón, and postdoc Paolo Margaria gave presentations and organized hands-on activities to display the variety of research that takes place in the department. They wowed the interns with their great communication styles and engaged the visitors on topics ranging from sea turtle eggs to virus diagnosis. The interns were then treated to a truly plant pathological lunch, complete with sandwiches accompanied by a sampling of corn smut. During lunch they were able to spend some time with Department Head Carolee Bull working on self-mentorship and finding ways to get the most out of their experiences this summer. We ended the day with M.S. student Garrett Morrison leading a guided tour of the Mushroom Research Center, piquing the interest of all our students in what happens in the dark!

Students came away from this visit with a renewed sense of excitement in their current positions and potential career paths. “I really got a lot out of talking with the graduate students and reflecting on my goals for my life and career. I think that was a really valuable experience,” remarked Hannah Kuhns, recent Franklin & Marshall College graduate and SEAREC intern. Maggie Lemus, an incoming freshman at Penn State Mont Alto and FREC intern, echoed similar sentiments saying, “I appreciated the opportunity of being able to interact with the graduate students, especially to to be able to catch a glimpse of what could be possible after college.”

As they wind down in their summer positions and wrap up their current projects, these students will return to their classes and move on to their first professional positions, but they will also carry with them a deeper appreciation of all the exciting and novel work we do in the College of Ag. And I suspect we’ll see more than one of them as graduate students in the halls of Buckhout Lab, Tyson, Ag Science and Industries (ASI), and the Rodney A. Erickson Food Science Building soon enough!

SEAREC participants:

  • Allyson Balmer, Harrisburg Area Community College, Biology
  • Lindsay Boyd, Penn State-Harrisburg, Biology
  • Dr. Alyssa Collins, SEAREC Director, PPEM Assistant Professor and Research Associate
  • Hannah Kuhns, Franklin & Marshall College, Biology
  • Katherine (Kate) Mobley, Penn State University, Food Science
  • Sadie Smith, Research Technologist, SEAREC

Contact Information

Alyssa Collins, Ph.D.
  • Assistant Professor and Research Associate
Phone: 717-653-4728