A new project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln aims to prepare students to address the challenges of food production and the environment through hands-on learning experience and peer interaction.
Funded by a $281,475 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the project will bring 24 students from across the country to Nebraska to conduct summer experiential internships related to their career interests and goals. Throughout the 10-week internships, the students will hold weekly think-tank sessions where they will share experiences, findings and challenges with their peers.
“Student internships tend to focus on tasks, but we want students to be systems thinkers so they can recognize how those tasks connect to a major challenge,” said Martha Mamo, Weaver Professor of Agronomy and Horticulture and lead investigator on the project. “Peer learning is powerful. We’ll bring a cohort of students together with different interests, so they have the opportunity to recognize that they’re all actually addressing the same challenge.”
Students can choose from a wide variety of internship programs in the applied plant, soil and environmental sciences. One example involves working directly with crop-consulting agronomists during the growing season to perform field checks, identify and diagnose pest and crop growth problems, monitor soil moisture, schedule irrigation, assist with equipment calibration, and take plant and soil samples.
As part of the grant requirement, half of the participants must be from outside of the host institution. Each student will have a mentor throughout the internship, who will facilitate the think-tank sessions. The mentors will include faculty in the university’s Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, private crop consultants and USDA Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service representatives.
At the conclusion of their internships, the students must create a tangible outreach or extension component explaining what they learned. Mamo said the students will create a video, infographic or lesson plan to disseminate their discoveries.
“It doesn’t always have to be a peer-reviewed publication,” she said. “Tomorrow’s scientists must be able to present science in a way that the public will understand.”
The first group of seven students will begin their internships in June.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the fantastic work we’re doing at UNL, but bringing in individuals with diverse backgrounds and ideas will only add to the overall experience,” Mamo said.
Others working on the project include David Lambe, associate professor of practice in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture; Donald Lee, professor in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture; Gina Matkin, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication; Leah Sandall, assistant professor of practice in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture; Walter Schacht, Sunkist Fiesta Bowl Professor of Agronomy in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture; and Carol Speth, educational assessment specialist in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture.
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