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Student Focus

Shaulis Summer Scholar Quinlan Corbett: From Acting to Science

CorbettBy Tim Martinson

Quinlan Corbett left a 10-year acting career in New York City to pursue his interest in viticulture and winemaking. 

Last January, he moved to the Finger Lakes and enrolled in the Finger Lakes Community College’s (FLCC) Viticulture and Wine Technology program, housed at the FLCC’s new Viticulture and Wine Center, adjacent to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.

Within three weeks of starting his program at FLCC, Corbett applied for the Shaulis Summer Scholarship – annually awarded by the Nelson J. Shaulis Fund for the Advancement of Viticulture to provide students with exposure to research and extension in viticulture. 

“As a non-traditional student, his eagerness, maturity and dedication to deepening his knowledge stood out in his application,” said John Brahm, owner of Arbor Hill vineyards and chair of the Shaulis Fund committee.

August Diemel, FLCC instructor cited Corbett’s class participation in supporting his application. “Although he’s at an early stage of his program, Quinlan is engaged and thoughtful, and his contributions reflect a serious commitment to learning.”

Paul Brock, director of the FLCC program, cited Quinlan’s unique background as a non-traditional student. “Quinlan has immense curiosity which has fostered his introduction to science in a determined way. As he discovers the scientific method, he is learning how much he loves doing it!”

Corbett is working with virologist Marc Fuchs on an ongoing project researching the viral disease called Red Blotch, that has emerged as a newly-recognized viral disease since being identified in 2008 at UC Davis.  His summer task is to complete a survey of wild grapevines in five counties across the Finger Lakes to test for the presence of the red blotch virus.

In California, the red blotch virus was found to infect many wild vines and probably serves as a natural reservoir to infect adjacent cultivated vines.” said Corbett, “The question is whether or not this virus is present in wild vines here in the east”.

To date, the good news is that after processing over 400 sample to date, no New York samples have tested positive for the virus.

To this former actor, working in a plant pathology laboratory also involved learning many new skills and techniques.

“I have had to learn how to use aseptic techniques to avoid cross-contamination, extract DNA, and how to run the PCR machine” said Corbett. “ It has been a fascinating opportunity to learn about plant thology and what its like to work in a laboratory.

“Quinlan adapted very quickly to the laboratory, a new environment for him, and his desire to learn instilled a taste of freshness to my program” said Fuchs.

Along with the project, Shaulis summer scholars are exposed to other scientists and extension specialists during their eight week experience. 

“I took Quinlan out to the Loomis farm, where we are experimentally defoliating and defruiting Riesling vines to test how these treatments will affect bud hardiness and return bloom,' said Tim Martinson, Sr. Extension Associate. “We discussed how vines allocate photosynthates to fruit, foliage, and winter acclimation – and what happens when we change the balance of fruit to foliage”.

Corbett will finish his program at FLCC in Spring 2018.  His plans are to work in a responsible industry position that reflects his passion for wine, but he’s weighing a few different options.

“I’m curious about pursuing a Master's degree, but I’m also looking forward to interning at Hermann Wiemer vineyards this fall.  I’m still asking myself where I want to end up.”

Though Corbett has long been involved in wine retail education and service in between acting jobs, science is a new endeavor for someone who’s devoted their career to artistic pursuits.

So what’s the most surprising thing about science versus artistic endeavors?

“The experience of curiosity and discovery is similar.  The day to day activities of testing DNA samples are quite different and technical.  But sitting in the weekly lab meeting and discussing results felt similar to what’s involved in acting.  The experience of asking questions and curiosity is something science and art share.”

Tim Martinson is a senior extension associate in the Section of Horticulture, based at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY.