Plant science students experience internships, research camps

Published By: Latasha Ford January 9, 2023

Fort Valley State University plant science-biotechnology S-STEM students share their summer research experience with Dr. Olufunke A. Fontenot, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and peers.

Twenty-four Fort Valley State University plant science-biotechnology S-STEM scholars gained firsthand experience participating in a collaborative summer internship program at major research institutions across the nation.

These institutions included the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, the University of California-Davis, the University of Georgia (UGA), the University of Central Florida, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), Penn State University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Sarwan Dhir, an FVSU professor of plant biotechnology, advises the scholars, exposing them to various summer workshops, research camps and internship programs.

“Internships are valuable because they expose students to real-time, real-life jobs in a low-risk environment,” he said. “Our expectation that the students trained with the support of this program will boost their confidence in research and critical thinking confirms that they should continue with their major and seek a career in the STEM field.”

Junior Jevon Clarke interned in the laboratory on campus in the summer of 2021, where he learned new techniques and connected with the agricultural community. The skills he gained helped when he interned in the Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates (REEU) program at UGA in the summer of 2022. His research focused on crop genetics and breeding.

The 20-year-old said FVSU provided a great foundation to practice those techniques and network during the two-month internship. He worked with other students from around the country.

“Everyone coming together with different learning styles and experiences, I was able to network with them so that I could learn from them, and they could learn from me. I became more focused knowing that there are more people out there like me studying in the same area,” Clarke said.

The Orlando, Florida, resident grew up in an agricultural community in Jamaica. He said his experiences at FVSU have been rewarding. “This department has provided countless opportunities for me to make connections,” said the FVSU 1890 scholar.

He plans to pursue a master’s degree in plant breeding and work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Junior Anijha Baker, also an FVSU 1890 scholar, interned at UMES in the summer of 2022. Her research focused on marine biology, where she experimented with Sambucus nigra extracts. During the 10-week internship, she gathered samples at Ocean Bay City.

The 20-year-old from Fort Gaines, Georgia, appreciated the support she received from mentors and graduate students at UMES. “I learned a lot,” she said. Baker plans to attend law school or pursue a forensic science degree.

Students Jevon Clarke, Anijha Baker, J'lyscia Roberts and Latavia Powell work in the research lab with Dr. Sarwan Dhir, professor of plant biotechnology.

Latavia Powell, a junior from Jacksonville, Florida, worked in the lab with Dhir and biology professor Seema Dhir, collecting tissue cultures of strawberries. “It’s been fun. I enjoy being under the hood and getting that hands-on experience,” she said. “I am learning a lot of techniques.”

The 20-year-old, who earned a biotechnology scholarship, said the more she gets involved, the more she is realizing her passion. “Plant science comes with so many options. There is a wide range of careers to pursue,” she said, noting she is interested in an internship at UGA.

Also interested in entrepreneurship, Powell recently started an eyelash business. After she graduates, she plans to attend esthetician school to become a certified lash technician. She desires to open her own shop offering various services, including creating a plant-based product line for lashes, hair or skin care.

J'lyscia Roberts, a sophomore from Warner Robins, Georgia, participated in research camps and worked in the lab on plant procedures. She is excited about possibly pursuing an internship at the University of Vermont.

The 19-year-old learned about FVSU’s agricultural programs from her mother, Josephine Felton, an FVSU alumna and staff member. She grew up knowing more about working in the field but enjoys lab work.

“I am interested in the medical field and medicinal plants,” she said, noting that she inherited land from her grandfather.

The young scientists advise students to get involved and take advantage of the many available resources on campus. Although FVSU may not have been their first choice, they are glad they became Wildcats due to the family-oriented environment and vast opportunities.

“Fort Valley is small but big,” Powell smiled. “I would not have changed my decision to come here.”

Multimillion-dollar grants from NSF HBCU-UP (HRD-2011903), S-STEM (DUE-1834046) and the Department of Education MSEIP (P120A2000016) at FVSU help provide financial support, cutting-edge research experiences and scientific meetings to students studying biotechnology.