Thirty high school students interested in studying food science, plant and soil science and poultry science at the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) had a chance to take a closer look at those fields on Friday, Oct. 28, as part of the college’s Exploration Day.
The day started with a continental breakfast in the Townsend Hall Commons followed by a reception at which Blake Meyers, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and Kali Kniel, associate professor of animal and food sciences, welcomed the students to the college.
Meyers talked about how agriculture is one of the bright spots in the nation’s economy and highlighted key points about the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, such as the low student-to-faculty ratio, which allows for a wealth of opportunities for internships and research programs.
“Our department spans a wide range of interests from landscape design, which is more art and design influence, through to plant protection, environmental soil science and plant molecular biology, where we have a lot of researchers doing exciting cutting edge research on plant genomics. Today we have an opportunity to explore each of these areas and really see what we’re doing in the department,” said Meyers.
Kniel focused on those students who came to learn more about food and poultry science, saying, “I think that this is a really exciting time for us to be involved in agriculture, in particular with the production of food of all kinds. Food is important to us — how we grow food, how we produce food, how we do product development, how we want to produce healthy food and how we get food to people. We’re going to explore some of those things and you’re going to see how important and exciting agriculture is and how innovation is top of the line when it comes to product development.”
After a presentation on admissions and scholarships by Heidi Mulherin, UD admissions counselor, the students divided into three groups — one for students interested in food science, one for plant science and one for poultry science.
The food science students got to visit the UDairy Creamery in the morning, where they tried their hand at making ice cream and participated in an ice cream taste test. In the afternoon, they had lessons on topics such as food packaging and investigating a foodborne illness outbreak.
The plant and soil science students learned about suburban landscaping with Sue Barton, associate professor of plant and soil science, toured the Fischer Greenhouse and explored a plant cell with Janine Sherrier, professor of plant and soil sciences at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.
As for the poultry science students, they spent time in Allen Laboratory doing a variety of activities that included hands-on tracheal swabs of chickens with Robert Alphin, an instructor in animal and food sciences and the manager of the Agricultural Experiment Center, and Carl Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences. These students learned about gene sequencing, avian domestication and evolution, and how using an electroencephalogram can assist in monitoring animal welfare.
The three groups had lunch together in the Townsend Hall Commons before breaking off for panel discussions with current UD students and alumni from their respective areas of interest.
Kimberly Yackoski, assistant dean for student services at CANR, said, “One of the main goals of Exploration Day is to introduce curious, science-minded high school students to the exciting and innovative things going on in our college. This day truly offers the ‘student explorer’ a better understanding of the diverse disciplines within our programs of study.”
One alumnus who was particularly insightful was Matt Sullenberger, who graduated in 2010 and had gone through Exploration Day as a high school student both for plant and soil science and food science.
“I think the best thing about Exploration Day was the hands-on activities that we did with the actual professors,” Sullenberger said. “It was sort of mimicking the type of classes we would have when we got here. It got me really excited about the programs.”
Sullenberger said that Exploration Day helped him get his college career off to the right start and gave him more information about a subject he thought he wanted to study but didn’t know that much about. “One of the big reasons why I did the food science track was that I didn’t know much about food science until I visited Delaware. I participated in Exploration Day partly to learn more about that.”
As for students who participated in Exploration Day this year, Jim and Wesley Johnson, twin brothers who attend high school in New Jersey and are interested in plant and soil science, said that they found Exploration Day to be both fun and beneficial.
“I really enjoyed the suburban landscaping class and it was interesting to hear Sue Barton talk about how instead of having 95 percent of your lawn be lawn, you can have meadows and things like that. It was pretty interesting; I never really knew that,” said Jim Johnson.
Wesley Johnson said that he would recommend Exploration Day to any student interested in the college because you get to “meet the teachers and see what it’s like in the classrooms.”
Kara Kowalski, a senior from New York City who is interested in food science, said that she enjoyed making ice cream at the creamery. “Our flavor was cake batter with chocolate covered pretzels and a graham cracker swirl.”
Kowalski said she liked “the sensory technology part of it, so I really liked the hands-on stuff, like smelling and tasting different flavors. We did a lot of that in the creamery, so that was really cool.”
The students who attended this year’s Exploration Day walked away with a new understanding of how fun and exciting learning can be at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Article by Adam Thomas
Photos by Danielle Quigley
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