UD students, professors make global connections in Brazil

October 2, 2013 under CANR News

UD students travel to UFLAFour University of Delaware students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) spent time this summer interning in Brazil at the University of Lavras (UFLA), immersing themselves in the Brazilian culture and taking part in experiential learning with the hope of establishing connections for future collaborations with the institution.

The students were able to study in Brazil thanks to funds provided by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program awarded to CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011.

The students who went on the trip were Jacqueline Hoban, a junior studying wildlife conservation and entomology, and recent UD graduates Melanie Allen, who studied wildlife conservation, Sara Laskowski, ecology, and Sarah Thorne, animal science.

Laskowski said that in addition to learning about the research underway at UFLA and networking to globalize UD, the students were fully immersed in the culture as they all lived with Brazilian doctoral or undergraduate students and tried their best to speak Portuguese.

Laskowski, who stayed in Brazil for two months, said that her favorite part of the experience was “the people I met. I made really great friends who I hope to stay in contact with for a long time. I hope to go back and I’m looking into possibly getting a master’s degree in the Amazon region. I love it.”

She also said that she enjoyed sitting in on various classes, talking with professors, seeing new species of birds and insects, and learning about new plants on a day-to-day basis.

Laskowski said that traveling and studying abroad “gives you a new perspective on life. UD has a lot of great opportunities through the study abroad program, which gives students an opportunity to step outside of their roles and really see how other people live.”

Hoban explained that the interns had worked for a year before heading to Brazil to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy, animal agriculture and biodiversity.

“Most of my classes were plant based and I worked with plant pathologists and learned a lot about coffee, because that’s their big crop,” Hoban said. She also studied how her Brazilian colleagues “deal with different pathogens and how we would deal with any pathogens that would come from Brazil, or have come from Brazil, to the United States.”

Hoban said that she enjoyed traveling to Rio de Janeiro and exploring UFLA’s new coffee science department.

Having been on study abroad trips to Cambodia and Vietnam before heading to Brazil, Hoban explained that traveling and studying abroad “makes you realize how big the world really is and how different it is. When you read about another country, you’re not really getting a full view of their perspective. Seeing how Brazilians feel about Brazil, how Brazilians feels about the United States, it broadens your mind.”

Professorial experience

The students were also supervised by a faculty team that included Sue Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist; Carl Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and associate professor of biological sciences; Greg Shriver, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; and Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Barton traveled to Brazil for five days, and explained that she went for a number of reasons, among them to touch base with the UD students and provide them with the opportunity to do things like travel to Inhotim, a 5,000-acre botanic garden and contemporary art museum located two hours from the city Belo Horizonte.

As a professor who teaches plants and human culture, Barton also spent time with an ornamental horticulture professor from UFLA, driving around and looking at the typical city landscape in Brazil. Most of the plots in the city had very little room to landscape or walls that hid their interiors for security purposes, and because of this, people were not able to landscape the area in front of their homes. Barton was able to see a gated community, however, that eliminated the security issue with the gate at the entrance and that looked relatively similar to a high end American urban or suburban development.

Barton was also able to meet with forestry officials who showed her a number of urban forestry projects. “They’re very advanced in the way they’re using computers — like tablets — to collect data and they’re trying to completely catalogue all the trees in Belo Horizonte, which is a city about two hours away from Lavras,” said Barton.

She explained that the officials are gathering data on each tree and the possible problems that trees face in an urban environment — such as wires near the trees — and that they are hoping “to get a handle on the full range of the trees in the city and then continue to track that over time.”

Schmidt went to Brazil to support the students and to conduct research as part of a $4.7 million National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) climate change grant for a project titled “Adapting Chicken Production to Climate Change Through Breeding.” The project looks at identifying genes that help chickens survive on different diets, in different climates and facing different disease challenges.

Having already sampled birds in Uganda, Schmidt said that it was very beneficial to be able to get genetic samples from birds in Brazil, as well.

“I’m very interested in pursuing worldwide genetic diversity in chickens because they’re in all sorts of different environments — they’re pretty much anywhere you find people,” said Schmidt.

Aiding Schmidt in his research work were Janet DeMena, a research associate in CANR, and Allison Rogers, a master’s degree student in CANR.

When it came time to head to campus and help the students, Schmidt quickly realized that the students were very self-motivated. He was, however, more than happy to accompany them on their trip to Rio de Janeiro.

“The people at UFLA were great and we were working pretty hard the whole time we were there, but I have to admit, it was nice to have a break in Rio,” said Schmidt.

Having been to UFLA during spring break, Schmidt had already set up connections with faculty at the institution in anticipation of this trip, and he will now have two Brazilian graduate students from the university travel to UD to spend a year here starting this month.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Seniors Kramer and Allen recognized with UDAA’s Taylor, Warner awards

May 9, 2013 under CANR News

Warner/Taylor award winnersUniversity of Delaware seniors Max Logan Kramer and Melanie Allen have been selected as the recipients of the Alexander J. Taylor Sr. and Emalea Pusey Warner awards, respectively, as the outstanding man and woman of the 2013 graduating class.

The awards are given annually by the UD Alumni Association to recognize the senior man and woman who most exemplify leadership, academic success and community service.

Melanie Allen

Warner Award recipient Melanie Allen, of Uniondale, N.Y., is an Honors Program student and double major in wildlife conservation and agriculture and natural resources, with a minor in public policy.

Her areas of academic interest include ecology, conservation biology, wildlife management, community-based conservation and environmental policy.

Allen, who maintains a 3.64 grade point average (GPA), has received more than half a dozen academic awards and distinctions, including Dean’s List, Honors Enrichment Award, U.S. Forest Service Sustainability Fellowship and the African American Student of Distinction.

A member of the Alpha Lambda Delta honor society, Allen has studied abroad in Costa Rica and Ghana, leading community service projects and presenting research findings in those countries, and soon plans to travel to Brazil.

A budding leader in sustainability and conservation, Allen has held many volunteer and leadership roles, including serving as a volunteer for the Center for Environmental Impact Analysis in Ghana.

She has been a leader in UD’s Alternative Spring Break program, in which she led two groups in trail restoration and maintenance in South Carolina and Tennessee, and as a representative for the Green Liaison Committee of the UD Sustainability Task Force. She also was a volunteer intern at the Wildlife Hospital at Caumsett State Historic Park in Lloyd Harbor, N.Y.

Allen also served as an Honors Program Writing Fellow and as an Ag Ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Kristin Bennighoff, associate director of the UD Honors Program who nominated Allen, said the senior is a first-generation American as well as a first-generation college student. “Just as Mrs. Warner was a leader in education for women at the University of Delaware … Melanie has been a leader utilizing service and research to provide educational outreach both here in the United States and abroad,” Bennighoff said in her nomination letter.

Raymond I. Peters III, coordinator of the Writing Fellows Program, said Allen is a “highly motivated young woman who has already made a difference at the University of Delaware.”

To read about Max Logan Kramer, check out the full article on UDaily.

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Rieger, Rodgers and Allen attend rural economy summit in Washington

May 1, 2013 under CANR News

Chris Coons talks with Mark Rieger, Michelle Rodgers and Melanie AllenMark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Michelle Rodgers, associate dean and director of University of Delaware cooperative extension, and Melanie Allen, a senior studying wildlife conservation in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, recently participated in a half-day summit on issues of importance to rural communities across the nation. The event featured U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), and was hosted by the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee and featured two moderated panels focused on rural economics, infrastructure, and access to critical services.

The panel highlighted the economic conditions facing rural communities and the agriculture industry, and what role the federal government can play in ensuring long-term support for the communities. Issues discussed during the summit included the importance of investing in the health of farmland, natural resources, and infrastructure. Another topic of discussion was connecting farmers and ranchers with consumers, including individuals, schools, hospitals and businesses.

“Our rural communities are central to our identity, our economy, and our values,” said Coons. “Between our agriculture sector, environmental conservation, and tourism, it’s no surprise that Delaware’s rural communities are thriving. It’s important that we continue to facilitate an open dialogue between our rural communities and our elected officials to ensure we aren’t hindering their growth and development. I thank the members of the University of Delaware for attending today’s event and sharing their views on how we can strengthen our state’s rural areas.”

More than 200 rural development advocates attended the summit.

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UD’s Allen travels to Ghana to conduct research, educate on water quality

April 22, 2013 under CANR News

As a wildlife conservation major, when University of Delaware student Melanie Allen got to travel to Ghana this past summer to conduct research, she was not expecting to be assigned to a project that looked at water quality.

“When I first got assigned to this project I was like, ‘What am I doing? I want to work with butterflies,’” said Allen, a senior studying wildlife conservation in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

It turns out, however, that the project enriched her in ways she never would’ve experienced has she not stepped out of her comfort zone.

Allen first went to Ghana in the summer of 2012 to conduct water quality research on polluted lagoons in Cape Coast, located in the central region of the country, through a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Virginia Tech.

UD student Melanie Allen traveled to Ghana for water quality researchAfter receiving an Honors Enrichment Award through the UD Honors Program (UDHP), she went back during Winter Session to learn more about the challenges to conservation facing developing countries. This involved educating the locals and making sure that they knew about the dangers of polluting, and the risks involved with eating fish found in the water supply.

During her first trip to the region last summer, Allen said that she realized the need to go back to the country because she was “doing water quality research in lagoons that are used for human consumption” and recognized a lack of communication between the people studying the high levels of pollution in the lagoon and the villagers who were using the lagoon on a daily basis.

Allen said it was clear that the people using the lagoon “weren’t really being informed of what was going on, why they shouldn’t pollute, why it’s dangerous for them to consume water or any fish from there.”

She wondered, “What’s the point of this if we’re just going to publish this paper and there’s not going to be any kind of implementation? That’s why I wanted to go back and work with a local organization that’s directly involved in those lagoons doing environmental education and public awareness activities.”

Working with the Center for Environmental Impact Analysis, a new and small nongovernmental organization (NGO), as its first international volunteer, Allen had two main tasks. The first involved creating a curriculum and engaging students from five middle schools in learning about pollution.

“One of [the center’s] goals is to inform the youth about all of these issues since they’re going to be the future leaders, so they established these environmental clubs in five different junior high schools two years ago,” said Allen.

She devised a curriculum for the students — one that she is still tweaking now that she is back in the United States — with chapters that provide overviews on different topics such as water pollution, climate change and waste management.

Allen explained that the chapters also had questions for the students and group activities that they could do, as well as “take home” messages so they could try to spread their knowledge to the older members of their families.

Allen also worked on a community cleanup at one of the lagoons that she had been studying on her previous trip to Ghana.

Instead of simply having a community cleanup, however, Allen used the opportunity to engage people who had different stakes in the lagoon, such as the local fisherman and the local waste management company that donated supplies to the cleanup.

Allen said that though they were trying to clean up the lagoon, the real purpose was to educate residents about the risks involved in pollution, as the water in the lagoon is probably too polluted for healthy use at this time. “There’s a hospital a couple of blocks away that dumps all their medical waste in there,” said Allen, “and all of the runoff from the street goes in there, so it was just more of a raising awareness activity, bringing everyone together and informing the public.”

Tying in her first project with her second, Allen also brought in two professors who had conducted research on the lagoon to speak with the locals. “They gave a presentation, releasing all of their data on what they found in the lagoon,” said Allen. “It really was this holistic approach to community development so that was really exciting for me to work with people that I worked with over the summer but in a different manner.”

After her experience in Ghana, Allen said that she is no longer looking at master’s programs that deal solely with wildlife conservation, but rather programs that incorporate both of her interests. “I’m looking at master’s programs that integrate the two — like sustainable development, human environment interactions, conservation biology — so I definitely want to do something where it involves international development with a focus on conservation. The trip really has shaped my future career goals completely.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Professors, students travel to UFLA; interns selected for collaborative work

April 24, 2012 under CANR News

Three professors and two graduate students from the University of Delaware spent spring break in Brazil, visiting the University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) campus, strengthening the academic and cultural bonds between the two universities and taking in the sites and sounds of the South American nation.

In addition, four UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) undergraduate students have been selected for an opportunity to develop international teaching modules in conjunction with professors and students at UFLA and UD, and to visit this University in 2013.

About the UFLA trip

During the spring break trip, the UD delegation spent its time meeting with faculty from UFLA, touring the facilities, teaching classes and taking trips to remote locations ranging from waterfalls to biodiesel factories. They were escorted by Eduardo Alves and Antonia dos Reis Figueira, both professors of plant pathology at UFLA.

Greg Shriver, assistant professor in CANR’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, said he found it to be a very informative trip and found that much of the research being conducted by entomologists at UFLA is similar to research under way at UD.

Talking with Jùlio Louzada, the head of UFLA’s applied ecology department, Shriver said, “They actually have a forest fragmentation study going on in and around Lavras, which is a lot like the study we have going on in and around Newark.”

Shriver and Zach Ladin, a CANR doctoral student, were able to visit part of the Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah ecoregion near the UFLA campus where the study is taking place, and said that the two universities hope to collaborate on their studies regarding dung beetles.

Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said she was impressed by the campus, noting that “the academic buildings are gorgeous and equipped with an impressive array of new research equipment,” and added that the trip was crucial in providing strong connections between the two universities for the coming years.

“One of the goals was to make more connections and try to find additional links for people to have ‘sandwich students’ here in the next two years,” Donofrio said. Sandwich students refers to a program established between the universities in which UFLA doctoral students spend one year studying at UD that is “sandwiched” between their studies at UFLA.

Donofrio and Emily Alff, a CANR master’s student, taught a class on fungal transformation for the UFLA students. Alff said that being on the UFLA campus was a tremendous experience. “All the research they do is so applied,” she said. “It really makes you think about the bigger picture of research as a whole.” She added that the food and climate were perfect, saying, “Brazil is just a gorgeous country.”

Tom Powers, assistant professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and director of UD’s Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy, said he was impressed by a UFLA practice in which they try to “leave nothing behind.”

Powers joined Donofrio and Alff on a visit to UFLA’s model biodiesel and bioethanol plant, located on the campus. “They use the water from the roof and the parking lot to run a lot of the processes,” he said, adding, “They use everything from, or have the potential to use everything from, fish guts to waste from sugar cane and castor beans. So, in terms of using all of these materials for the production of biofuels, it’s really astounding. And then what they don’t make into biodiesel they make into soap and everything else. They’re really trying to find some use for every byproduct in the production process.”

About the Brazil internships

Four CANR student interns have been chosen for an opportunity to conduct research and teach courses at UFLA.

The four interns who have been chosen for the project are:

  • Sarah Thorne, a junior;
  • Sara Laskowski, a junior;
  • Jacqueline Hoban, a freshman; and
  • Melanie Allen, a junior.

The internship will run from April 2012 through June 2013, with the interns supervised by UD faculty teams.

Hoban said she is looking forward to getting to travel to Brazil, and “excited about getting to work with a lot of interesting people and learning about a wide variety of research topics.” Hoban said that the internship “appealed to me not only because of the exciting travel opportunity, but also because it seemed like a really interesting way to apply the material that I have been studying in class.  The project gives me a different perspective on the subjects that I am interested in learning about. It also opens my mind to the educational aspect of my fields of study.”

Hoban added, “Everyone on the team seems like they have a lot of passion for their research and I cannot wait to work with them.”

The project is led by a faculty team from CANR and CAS and is intended to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy animal agriculture and biodiversity.

The project will also aim to stimulate creative thinking in the students who participate about how to develop innovative solutions to complex global agricultural and environmental problems.

There will be a curriculum enhancement portion of the internship, where students will assist faculty on both a part time and eventually a full time basis, and an experiential learning aspect, where the students will travel to Brazil for up to four weeks with UD faculty.

The interns will be responsible for developing a minimum of two teaching modules per course, and the modules will consist of PowerPoint presentations or other innovative learning methods that provide detailed information on the course topics developed by the interns and their faculty advisers.

This new research and teaching project is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s International Science and Education Program.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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