MONROE CO., N.Y. — On a cold and dim December morning, Cornell AgriTech graduate student Hannah Swegarden leads a group of high school students into a brightly lit greenhouse full of tall, flowering kale plants. She discusses how her lab crosses various varieties to produce plants with more desirable growing and consumer preferred characteristics.
This greenhouse visit is a part of a larger, day-long field trip for these students. The students are part of a high school horticulture class that is the result of collaboration between the Monroe County 4-H program and Bishop Kearney High School. As part of the class, students learn about horticulture through hands-on activities in the classroom and also get to participate in ten field trips throughout the fall semester. The field trips expose students to possible careers in horticulture.
The day trip to Cornell AgriTech was one such field trip and facilitated a closer connection for students to Cornell University resources. Students were able to tour Cornell AgriTech facilities and meet with faculty, staff, and graduate students at the experiment station. Students got to take a deeper look at the Cornell Food Venture Center Pilot Plant, an entomology lab, a horticulture lab, and two plant pathology labs.
During the field trip, students saw a wide array of new technologies being employed in the different agriculture fields. The Cornell Food Venture Center Pilot Plant left an impact on some students. “The most surprising thing to me from our visit to Cornell AgriTech was when the [Cornell Food Venture Center] pilot plant manager showed us a machine that uses electric shock on food,” Caroline, a student in the class, said. The machine, a pulsed electric field unit, can be involved in juicing and uses a non-thermal food processing technique.
Two members of the Monroe County 4-H team accompanied high school students on the field trip. “I think [the students] may have been surprised by just how much goes on there, and the variety of research being done on the campus,” Jessica Reid, 4-H Educator, said. “Students were very curious, and loved the hands-on activities, such as being able to touch real-life samples of the plants, or try their hand at pollinating. For some, I think it may have opened their eyes to a potential career path they may have never considered
High school students enjoyed getting an up-close look at a few different labs. “My favorite part of the field trip was when we split into our small groups and we went to different stations,” Natalia, a student in the class, said. “It was interesting to learn more about the topics each lab specialized in.”
Cornell AgriTech graduate students facilitated these hands-on experiences for students. “It was fun to watch the students go from being respectful and quiet to becoming curious and excited about the research in our lab,” graduate student Martha Sudermann said. “We were impressed by the questions the students asked. It was energizing for us to share our work.”
Other graduate students also enjoyed the opportunity to share their work with the high school students. “From December to February, our vegetable breeding greenhouses are lush and active as we make crosses for the upcoming summer season,” Swegarden said. “During a time when we don’t often get visitors, it was great to have some fresh, energetic faces with whom we could share our research.”
Stephen Reiners, professor and chair of the Horticulture Section at Cornell University, served as the faculty liaison for the high school field trip. “I love how engaged [the high school students] were with lots of excellent questions, not just about what we do at Cornell AgriTech, but about careers and life in college,” Reiners said. “It’s fun to take a step back and explain what we do to a new audience. I loved that they had a chance to talk with the graduate students who were in their shoes five or ten years ago. The graduate students emphasized that the high schoolers should explore different options in college, to not be afraid to change majors, and to find something you are passionate about.”
High school students appreciated the opportunity to talk with graduate students. “[Our conversations with graduate students] were impactful,” Anna, a student in the class, said. “It opened my eyes to the possibilities of college; [the graduate students] made me feel better when they said it was okay to change your mind about choosing a field of study. I also liked when one graduate student shared about how he is studying plants and insects right now, but plans to run for local office after graduating. That was pretty cool.”
The Monroe County 4-H Program is offered through Cornell Cooperative Extension to the youth of Monroe County. 4-H is a worldwide youth development program open to all youth aged 5 to 19, who want to have fun, learn new skills, and explore the world. In return, youth who participate in 4-H find a supportive environment and opportunities for hands-on or “experiential” learning about things that interest them.
Learn more at http://monroe.cce.cornell.edu/4-h-youth-development.
–Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County
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