Samantha Jones (left), a graduate assistant in food science and human nutrition, worked with Cyclone Scholar Summer Research Program participant Cecelia Andreo this summer. Each program participant was paired with a mentor to conduct research related to food safety, food security or childhood obesity. Photo by Whitney Sager.

First round of Cyclone Scholar Summer Research Program a success

Ten students gathered on Iowa State University’s campus to spend the months of June and July conducting research and learning about Iowa’s local food systems.

This was the first summer the Cyclone Scholar Summer Research Program was offered. The eight-week program pairs undergraduate students with professors in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) to conduct research related to food safety, food security and childhood obesity. Funding from the United States Department of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture made the program possible.

While the students’ weekdays were spent conducting research, their Fridays were spent touring companies and locations around and near Iowa.

“What makes this program unique is that we have Friday field trips for students to explore the Iowa local food systems and food companies that are in the state of Iowa or near Iowa,” said Shannon Coleman, director of the Cyclone Scholar Summer Research Program and assistant professor in the FSHN Department.

The Friday field trips took students to places such as Blue Bunny, ConAgra, General Mills, the Des Moines Farmers Market and Nature Road Farm, to name a few.

edit_9513“I think often in the nutrition side of the field, we do a lot of clinical, health-based things, and we don’t get to see a lot of the farmers’ perspective or things in agriculture,” said Cecelia Andreo, program participant and nutrition student at Mississippi State University. “So getting to get out in the field and see where the food starts and how it goes literally from farm to fork has been interesting, as well. It’s something that we don’t get a lot in our classes in nutrition.”

Each Wednesday, the program participants attended lunch and learn sessions, during which they listened to a guest presenter. The presentations focused on a variety of aspects, including how to research articles and sources, tips for giving oral presentations and graduate school information.

The program concludes with a final presentation given by each of the program participants, highlighting what they have learned and worked on during the eight-week program.

“This experience will certainly give me more confidence in future lab-related classes at school because I just learned so many practical and applicable skills doing the research,” said Catherine Spivak, program participant and nutritional science student at Cornell University.

The program is open to any college-aged student interested in the areas of food science and human nutrition. This year’s program attracted students from as far away as New York, Arizona and Georgia.

Even students who are not specifically majoring in food science or human nutrition can get something out of the program. Robin Cameron, a student at The University of Alabama at Birmingham who is majoring in biology with the goal of becoming a dentist, applied to the program because she wanted to gain research experience that was outside her mandatory course labs. She said because food is directly correlated to teeth, she thought the Cyclone Scholar Summer Research Program would be “a good experience” for her.

“If you want to do anything with humans, whether it be medicine or teeth or anything, I feel like food definitely affects everyone in multiple ways, so experiences like this where you get to study different things that affect the human body are always something that people can benefit from in any field,” Cameron said.

“I honestly feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Morgan Schonert, program participant and pre-dietetics student at Iowa State. “I know that there are other programs like it, but at the same time, this program is unique because we had opportunities to volunteer, we had opportunities to explore Ames and different cities throughout Iowa and the relationships I’ve built here are so important to me.”

Applications for the 2018 Cyclone Scholar Summer Research Program will be accepted Nov. 1, 2017, through Feb. 1, 2018. A link to the application will be posted here.

“We want to use this program as a recruitment tool,” Coleman said. “We want students from everywhere that are interested in food safety, food security, childhood obesity to come and be a part of our program.”