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Scholarships prepare WSU students for work in ag

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A researcher checks soil erosion in a field near Washington State University.
Awards will help students prepare for careers in vineyards, ag leadership.

Four WSU students received $2,500 scholarships for the 2021-2022 school year by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV).

ASEV is a professional society with members from wineries, vineyards, and academic institutions. Each year they award students who study wine science and viticulture.

Bernadette Gagnier, Alexa McDaniel, Heather Carbon, and Claire Warren all earned the scholarships.

“ASEV is proud to support students on their journey in enology and viticulture,” said ASEV Executive Director Dan Howard. “We believe in them, and the impact they are making in research.”

After serving in the Marine Corps for five years, Gagnier, a horticulture graduate student, said she was determined to find a career where she would be passionate.

“I looked up plant science degrees in Washington state and discovered the viticulture and enology program,” said Gagnier, whose goal is to be a vineyard manager. “I toured campus, explored the Tri-Cities, and I just loved it all.”

Gagnier spends her days with her hands in vineyard soil studying nematodes, small worms that feed on the roots of grapevines and cause them to lose their vigor and reduce grape yield over time.

Because she works on the vineyard side of horticulture, Gagnier is always covered in dirt. “I have more pictures of bugs on my phone than anything else,” she said.

Studying plant species

Gagnier is studying how different plant species can be leveraged to manage nematode pests in vineyards with less pesticide use.

“The first year of data has been very successful,” she said. “If this works in wine grape systems, it might also work for numerous other crops.”

The scholarship provides financial support for the students along with admission to the virtual ASEV National Conference.

Heather Carbon, a graduate research assistant for the School of Food Science, currently studies wine microbiology. “It feels extremely humbling to be recognized by such a prestigious wine research organization,” she said.

As the students continue work in microbiology and preventing soil borne pests using more natural means, funds from the scholarship will allow them to put the money where they feel they need it most.

Gagnier said living on a modest assistantship as a graduate student can be a struggle, so she appreciates the flexibility of the funds. “We can use the funding to travel to conferences, or work on special projects, so it’s awesome,” she said.

Meanwhile, WSU students from diverse backgrounds are helping change the face of agriculture through involvement in Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Entering its fourth year at WSU, the student organization launched two new scholarships in 2021 while helping members stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Helping diverse students succeed

Minorities are underrepresented in agriculture—while nearly 4 in 10 Americans are non-white, only about 7 percent of U.S. farmers are from a minority. MANRRS is a national society that promotes academic and professional advancement for minorities in agriculture, environmental, and connected disciplines. Student leaders created the WSU chapter in the spring of 2018.

“MANRRS provides opportunities to network, gain confidence, and build leadership experience,” said Aranza Arroyo-Mejia, an incoming junior and current chapter president. Chapter members connect with diverse fellow students and professionals in their field, and find support for success in studies and careers.

“Many of our members are first-generation college students who are trying to learn what college is all about, find opportunities, and get to know what is out there for them,” said Stephanie Olivera, past chapter vice president and a past scholarship recipient.

While some members are new to agriculture, others have personal experience, or parents and relatives who support their families through production agriculture. MANRRS members work to change the narrative for minorities in agriculture. Involvement with the chapter helps students realize their potential to make a good career, give back to their community, and improve the field for all people.

“It can be daunting to enter the job market,” said Leo Orozco, a 2021 plant sciences graduate, first-generation student, and past WSU chapter president who is now entering a doctoral program at the University of Colorado. “For me, interviewing was a challenge. It was great to be able to network with people who are already in place who can help you navigate those waters.”

National conferences with agricultural leaders, organized through MANRRS, “give us the opportunity to see others that look like us, filling roles that we aspire to,” he added.

New scholarships

This year, the chapter received a $25,000 donation from Northwest Farm Credit Services. The gift helps fund an endowment that will support the chapter for years to come, a portion of which supports several annual scholarships for members.

“To Northwest Farm Credit Services, I’d like to say thank you so much on behalf of the chapter,” Arroyo-Mejia said. “Their support truly means a lot, and it will help us provide more support and opportunities for our members.”

The chapter also used student-raised funds to create a new scholarship named for its advisor, Dr. Colette M. Casavant.

“Colette is our club cheerleader—she kept us in contact during the lockdown and helped us become closer as a chapter,” Olivera said. “Those were some of the reasons we named the scholarship for her.”

“There wouldn’t be a club without her,” added Haylee Hafey, a Casavant scholarship recipient. “She really pushed for us to keep going as a club. While we’re small, we’re impactful.”

Scholarships help students meet the financial needs of study, but they also help show the value of MANRRS.

A WSU junior, Hafey will use the scholarship to pay for books and online courses while gaining leadership skills as social media chairperson for the club.

“I am really thankful for this opportunity,” she said. “Being in MANRRS has meant a lot to me. Being an ally and a voice for those who have faced adversity really resonates.”

“As a woman and a person who is multiracial, I feel like I have a part to play,” added fellow scholarship recipient and Animal Sciences pre-veterinary student Darya Maysam. She joined the chapter to discover opportunities and encounter others on a similar path.

Thanks to the efforts of groups like MANNRS, “we will see more minority students get degrees, be successful, and return to agriculture as a career.”

Making real connections, virtually

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the chapter met on Zoom every two weeks, staying connected through texts, social media posts, and fun activities, such as playing the team-based survival video game “Among Us” as a club. The virtual connections have helped members succeed during a challenging year.

“The biggest way we support each other is just by sharing our knowledge,” Maysam said. Besides sharing resources and opportunities, “we ask how our day is going, how exams are going, and check in with each other. It’s good to have that social support.

With restrictions easing, members hope to expand opportunities to hear speakers, attend national conferences, and offer additional scholarships.

“I’m very excited to be back on campus this fall to recruit new MANRRS members, and look forward to the future of MANRRS at WSU,” Arroyo-Mejia said.

“We’re always looking for members,” Maysam said. “If you want to join a group that really cares about what you’re doing and wants you to succeed, MANRRS is the club for you.”

To learn more about MANRRS-WSU, or get involved, contact Dr. Colette Casavant, CAHNRS Director of Student Success, at [email protected] or by phone at (509) 335-8406.

Source: Washington State University, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 

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