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Student Focus

Geneva Summer Scholars a Pathway for Students

By Alex Koeberle 

Summer scholar Anne Repka '17 researches traits for black rot resistance in grapes.

Summer internships in Geneva, New York are paving the way for the next generation of agricultural scientists.

The internships, known as the Geneva Summer Research Scholars Program, are open to students from across the country and take place at the Cornell University New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.

While in Geneva, students have access to leading-edge facilities and a diverse network of faculty and graduate students, adding to the Station’s vibrancy.  Examples of grape-related projects include identifying genetic markers for black rot fungus, identifying red blotch spread, and developing detection methods for crown gall infections. 

Summer scholar and Cornell student Anne Repka ’17 has spent her summer trudging through muddy fields, sampling hundreds of vines, and processing these samples in a lab, learning about many of the challenges commonly addressed by grape growers and researchers.

Her goal is to find QTLs, or regions of the genome that correlate with a trait for black rot resistance or susceptibility in grapes.  Black rot is a major pathogen that limits grape production in the Northeast.  If left unchecked, it causes grapes to shrivel up and desiccate.

Working for Dr. Bruce Reisch and Beth Takacs, Repka’s research contributes to the VitisGen project, linking research at Geneva with the broader grape growing community. 

“The most exciting part was getting significant results from the QTL analysis,” said Repka. “Two months of field work in the rain and persistence in the lab paid off, and it was actually a bit of a rush.” 

Each summer, students apply for one of four programs ranging from Entomology, Food Science, Horticulture, and Plant Pathology/Plant Microbe-Biology, then work with faculty to develop a specific project.  At the end of the intensive nine-week program, students present their work as a poster session.

“The summer scholars program provides an experiential leaning opportunity for undergraduates including training in laboratory and field skills to address problems facing agricultural production in New York State and beyond,” said Christine Smart, professor of Plant Biology and Plant-Microbe Biology and director of the summer scholars program.

Summer scholar Molly Sheppard with visiting scientist Didem Orel (both in Dr. Tom Burr's lab) collecting grape samples in June 2015.

The summer scholars program has also been successful for preparing future graduate students. Since its inception in 2009 the program has hosted 116 summer scholars, 10 of whom are currently enrolled as graduate students at Cornell. 

“In addition to the exciting research projects, students interact with faculty mentors and industry professionals to gain an understanding of the important role public engagement plays at Cornell,” said Smart.  

Cornell’s Geneva campus, located at the north end of Cayuga Lake, is only about an hour from Ithaca where students have the opportunity to visit the main campus and faculty.  On campus, students can expand their network of scientific colleagues.  

According to former summer scholar Libby Cieniewicz, “The summer scholars program not only helped to train me as a researcher, but also gave me insight into what graduate school is like.”  Cieniewicz is currently a PhD student in Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell.

“This experience showed me the connection between agriculture research and the community, and launched my pursuit of a career in agriculture research and extension,” said Cieniewicz.

The summer scholars program started in 2009 in the Department of Plant Pathology, then expanded to the entire Geneva campus in 2012.

Although summer may be coming to an end, summer scholar students will be able to apply what they have learned during the school year and beyond.

Applications for summer 2017 will be available in December 2016.  For more information about this program, visit the Cornell University page "Undergraduate Studies in Entomology".

Alex Koeberle ’13 is a freelance writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.