STILLWATER, Okla. — The Urban Horticulture Research and Extension Experience for Undergraduates (REEU) Program continues to shape future ag researchers in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Oklahoma State University.
The REEU program, funded through a grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began at OSU in 2018 as a means of meeting the department’s goals of growing graduate programs and supporting undergraduate research, according to Charles Fontanier, OSU assistant professor of turfgrass and REEU program coordinator.
As part of the program, undergraduate students from across the state are housed on the OSU campus for 10 weeks as paid interns who participate in various Research and Extension activities. They also conduct their own research projects. The Ag Research conducted is geared toward helping small, urban-based farms, and the students get to choose their specific focus area and the professor with whom they work.
“They get to work hand-in-hand with our research professors,” Fontanier said, adding that the program caters the research to the individual student. “We may have a freshman coming in with no background in horticulture. Some students want more field work, and some want more lab-related work, so it’s been very diverse.”
Wendy Gong, a recent animal science graduate from Langston University, is studying how nitrogen applied at different rates will affect pecan growth after heavy pruning. Izzy Gonzales, an animal science junior at OSU, is conducting an okra and tomato mulch study to determine if paper or plastic mulch gives each plant a better harvest.
“I’ll be working with people in the agricultural field, so I need more experience outside of the classroom and will need to know how to interact with farmers and people in agriculture,” Gonzales said. “My worst fear is being at a desk, so I am really interested in research. I want to do something I feel is beneficial.”
Abigail Hobbs, a multidisciplinary studies senior at OSU, is studying morphological and physiological characteristics of bermudagrass to analyze its durability. Genny Harris, an environmental science junior at OSU, is evaluating the effectiveness of community gardens and improving quality of life for individuals in food desert areas (regions with limited access to affordable and nutritious food).
Harris said she would like to work in ag leadership and Extension and work with non-profits within the conservation and natural resources sector.
“I recently switched to environmental science. I’ve always loved plants and science,” Harris said. “The program just seemed really cool, and Dr. Shelley Mitchell, who I’m working with, sets up educational programs for OSU for the horticulture department.”
Abby Pace, a sophomore in public horticulture at OSU, is working with glow-in-the-dark, carnation-cut flowers. A study conducted during a previous REEU program found that glow-in-the-dark paint on flowers had no negative health effects on the plants but gives them an aesthetic appeal. Pace’s project is testing other substances in varying amounts — such as highlighters, spray paint and a combination of both to determine what the best glow-in-the-dark method is and which method allows flowers to last the longest.
“I think the cool thing is that even though we are working on our own specific projects, we have a class or an activity in which we interact with different aspects of horticulture,” Pace said. “We recently went to the student farm at The Botanic Garden. We’ve also done canning and preserving of food.”
Although the program is in its third and final year, the department has applied for another four years of USDA funding. Fontanier said the program has played a big part in not only growing the department’s graduate program but in increasing OSU’s urban horticulture footprint. He said the program has also helped to educate students on what Extension does and has introduced them to the possibility of graduate school.
“Overall, it has been a success. The students come out of it feeling more confident in what they want to do with their futures,” he said. “I think it opens a lot of students’ eyes to possible career paths for them.”
— Oklahoma State University Ferguson College of Agriculture
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