Fort Valley State University students prepare for graduate school through pathway program

Published By: Latasha Ford October 26, 2017

(From left to right) Fort Valley State University students James Taylor, Jontravious Wallace, Ashleigh Porter and Courtney Lester speak about their experience in the Plant Agricultural Biology Graduate Admission Pathways (PABGAP) program during a recent seminar at the Pettigrew Center.

Four Fort Valley State University upperclassmen gained new skills and hands-on experience this summer in a recently launched program for students interested in pursuing graduate study in plant agricultural biology.

Junior Ashleigh Porter and seniors Courtney Lester, James Taylor and Jontravious Wallace participated in the Plant Agricultural Biology Graduate Admission Pathways (PABGAP) program. Lester and Taylor are majoring in plant science with a concentration in environmental soil science. Porter and Wallace are majoring in biology.

For six weeks during summer 2017, they worked closely with faculty from the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), and graduate students in original field and laboratory research. The trip is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Human Resource Development (HRD) (No. 1238789) Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) Targeted Infusion grant.

The PABGAP program is funded by the UC-HBCU Initiative for $300,000 for three years. Included are academic year preparation for FVSU and Tuskegee University students, summer research and mentoring for students selected as PABGAP scholars and follow-up mentoring for seniors who have completed the program.

The long-term goal of the PABGAP program is to develop a pipeline of minority students into the UC Davis graduate program in biological sciences by building a mutually beneficial and sustainable relationship between UC Davis and FVSU.

Lead collaborator Dr. Sarwan Dhir, an FVSU professor of plant biotechnology, said the FVSU Plant Science program has a strong history of promoting and placing its students in highly successful graduate programs all over the country. Dhir, who directs the NSF HBCU-UP, S-STEM and INCLUDES programs, said FVSU’s participation in PABGAP can help to strengthen their research and mentorship capacity.

During the program, students have the opportunity to work alongside UC Davis faculty members from the College of Biological Sciences, the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and the College of Engineering.

“It’s a rigorous program,” said Dr. Diana Beckles, principal investigator and project director for UC Davis’ Department of Plant Sciences. “The focus is on students. It’s a carefully designed program to ensure you that you will be successful.”

While attending UC Davis, Lester and Taylor studied DNA replication and transformation in plants. “It showed me that real-life application goes a lot further than just sitting in the classroom and hearing something over and over,” Lester said.

Also, Porter and Wallace, who studied the anatomy of the body, said they felt honored to participate in the program. Their research involved working with mice to study lung development and the effects of the environment on health.

“Overall, it was very informative,” Porter said. “We had fun and we learned. UC Davis is down to earth, and they’re very eco-friendly.”

Fort Valley State University students and Seema Dhir, professor of biology (far right), traveled to the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), to meet with professors in the Department of Plant Sciences during April 2017.

For the first phase of the pipeline program, the four students and FVSU biology professor Seema Dhir traveled to UC Davis during April 2017. During their three-day visit, the students met with professors in the Department of Plant Sciences to learn about the coursework and disciplines that the school has to offer.

Students selected to participate in the PABGAP program take a GRE prep course, receive detailed written comments on statements of purpose, travel to natural areas and firms in the private sector and network with current UC Davis graduate students and faculty to prepare for graduate school applications.

PABGAP scholars receive a summer stipend of $4,400, with housing, meals and expenses of travel to Davis covered by the program.

At the end of the summer research experience, students give a presentation and at least one family member is invited to attend. To apply for the PABGAP program, visit Applications are due by Nov. 1.

For more information about the PABGAP program, contact Dhir at (478) 825-6887 or