Students grow through research

Students grow through research

Animal Science student in lab coat holding bird
Anna Rodriguez, a student in the Department of Animal Science, works on her UCARE project, Effects of Mesotocin on Social Bonds in Pinyon Jays, with Jeffrey Smith, assistant professor of sociology.

Whether students are working toward undergraduate or graduate degrees, opportunities to participate in research are plentiful.

UCARE

Kaitlyn Cuming is researching the capacity for beef production in Nebraska.

Yichuan Hu is analyzing the effect of the particle size of flours on gut microbial fermentation.

Madeleine Koenig is investigating the molecular mechanisms of fetal alcohol syndrome using drosophila melanogaster as a model system.

Michael Miller is exploring a mutagenesis approach for improving sorghum grain quality and digestibility.

Matthew Russell is working on validation of the cosmic-ray neutron method for estimating soil moisture.

Harriet Appeah, a student in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, works on her UCARE project
Harriet Appeah, a student in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, works on her UCARE project, Characterizing Genes Mediating Magnaporthe oryzae Infection: Emphasis on C and N Metabolism, with Richard Wilson, associate professor of plant pathology.

The common denominator of this wide-ranging research is that all of it is being conducted by undergraduate students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources through the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) program. Each year, 50 to 60 CASNR undergraduates participate in UCARE, which gives them an opportunity to work in research one-on-one with a faculty research adviser.

"Many students don't actually know what research really is, so participating in UCARE introduces them to research and the research culture," said Justina Clark, Undergraduate Research director at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. "UCARE allows them to try it out and see if research is right for them and something they'd like to pursue."

Over 80 percent of the students who participate in UCARE plan to attend graduate school, so UCARE helps those students strengthen their graduate school applications. UCARE also gives students the chance to engage in a research or creative project that may be outside the scope of their major.

Many other universities offer undergraduate research programs, but UCARE is one of the better-funded programs with a research stipend of $2,400. Skill-building seminars enhance the overall experience, Clark said.

"UCARE is really a win all around. The student gains experience and mentoring while the faculty adviser gets a funded research assistant," she said. "Student research assistants are an integral part of many labs."

"Student research assistants are an integral part of many labs."GRADUATE RESEARCH

In the past, developing new varieties of wheat to increase its nutritional qualities often resulted in a decrease in yield.

Jorge Venegas in research field
Jorge Venegas, a doctoral student in plant genetics, researches ways to increase the nutrients in wheat without decreasing yield.

Jorge Venegas, who is working on his doctorate in plant genetics at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is researching ways to combine the best of both worlds—nutrient–rich wheat with high yields. He is one of many students who have an opportunity to perform research while pursuing their degrees.

Venegas, who grew up on a family farm in Ecuador, South America, says his current research focuses on biofortification, which is the development of micronutrient-dense staple crops using the best traditional breeding practices and modern biotechnology. He uses genomics tools to understand the effect of two genes, GPC-B1 and Lpa-1, in the mineral composition of wheat. His main objective is to incorporate these traits into Great Plains wheat germplasm, which will increase protein, iron and zinc without affecting yield. His ultimate goal is to provide nutrient-dense wheat varieties, particularly for developing countries.

"My first year of field data was very encouraging," said Venegas, who hopes to work in the public sector after completing his doctorate.

Venegas's adviser is Stephen Baenziger, the university's world-renowned small grains breeder, and his co-adviser is Robert Graybosch, USDAARS research geneticist. Venegas, who also did research in dry beans while earning a master's degree in plant pathology from Nebraska, encourages people interested in agricultural research to come here.

"This university is one of the best places in the world to do agricultural research. The faculty are exceptional and encouraging and have the funding for research," he said.

"I love the University of Nebraska," Venegas said. "It really feels like home to me."