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Summer Scholar Program Kicks Off

Student at microscope in laboratory
May 27, 2016

The Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE) has kicked off its Undergraduate Summer Scholars Program. This new program provides summer employment internships for UMass Amherst undergraduate students in the labs and offices of University faculty and in communities where professional Extension educators are engaged with citizens. The program will provide substantive professional or academic training and also enhance the goals and objectives of research and extension initiatives associated with CAFE.

Entrance into the program was competitive, with 54 faculty and staff vying to mentor a limited number of internships. A selection committee made up of University department heads and others selected 27 projects for funding. This initiative is made possible by funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at USDA and by generous matching support from the Massachusetts State Grange and from the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture (MSPA). NIFA's support for the research initiatives is being provided through CAFE’s Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station.

One of the projects being supported in part by the Grange is under the direction of Richard Harper of the Urban Forestry Extension Program in the Department of Environmental Conservation.  The student will work along Abbey Brook in Springfield, a small stream that travels through a densely populated, low and middle-income neighborhood. He will complete the collection of urban tree-related and water quality data, conduct field surveys and mapping of potential locations for trail restoration, develop educational materials about urban forests, and urban water quality protection and enhancement.

An example of one of the projects being supported by the MSPA is research to be conducted at the Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center in Belchertown into thinning techniques in cold-climate grapes. The goal of the project is to develop techniques to control disease and thereby reduce pesticide usage. The student will maintain three different thinning treatments throughout the summer and will participate in evaluating juice quality and disease incidence at harvest time in the fall. This work is under the direction of Extension small fruit specialist Sonia Schloemann and Stockbridge School of Agriculture faculty member Elsa Petit.

An example of a research project supported by CAFE through the Summer Scholars is under the direction of Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Vierling of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and will involve working with the Plant Cell Culture Library (PCCL), donated to UMass-Amherst in 2014 for the discovery of novel antimicrobial agents against infectious diseases. The student will be involved in all steps necessary for the discovery of new antimicrobials, with a focus on screening for compounds active against Fusarium oxysporum, an important agricultural plant pathogen.

The program kicks off with an orientation on June 14 and will end with each student sharing a poster presentation on their project on Sept 14.