UACES Facebook Arkansas Ag Experiment Station undergraduate externship cultivates new scientists
skip to main content

Arkansas Ag Experiment Station undergraduate externship cultivates new scientists

By Brittaney Mann
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast facts

  • Out-of-state students complete first year of USDA-supported Arkansas externship
  • Agricultural science researchers work with undergraduate students from south Texas
  • Program supports building blocks for larger projects and peer-reviewed manuscripts

(1,192 words)

Download photo of Madrigal and Kariyat

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Out-of-state honors student and undergraduate Evelyn Madrigal conducted her first research project this summer — an opportunity she might not have received as a student at her home university.

Evelyn Madrigal, left, holds scientific poster, with her adviser Rupesh Kariyat.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES — Evelyn Madrigal, left, stands with her adviser Rupesh Kariyat, associate professor of crop entomology for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo)

She peered into a microscope watching fall armyworms, a pest of soybean and other plants, feed on different lines of soybean. She watched as the caterpillar curled into itself with a jab from a trichome, a fingerlike projection that a plant uses to defend against insects. She observed another stop snacking after trichomes filled its mouth.

Madrigal was one of six undergraduate students from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to complete the first year of a summer externship program developed by Rupesh Kariyat, associate professor of crop entomology for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. The other students were Geovanni Hernandez, Marisol Sagastegui, Ashley Pacheco, Myranda De Leon Cantu and Emanuel Flores.

“We don’t really get a lot of opportunities like this just because where we’re from is so small,” Madrigal said.

She surveyed the fall armyworms encountering soybean plant defenses to understand how the density of trichomes on soybean leaves protects the plant from fall armyworm feeding. This information can guide producers in choosing which variety of soybean to plant.

This project was Madrigal’s first time learning about the effects of fall armyworm on soybean plants, and she said she feels like an expert now. The 10-week session ended in late July.

“Looking back, I did so much, and I’m so happy with my results,” Madrigal said. “I grew a lot, and I learned so many techniques that when I go back home, they are definitely going to help me with the rest of the STEM classes that I have.”

Kariyat designed the program to empower Hispanic student researchers by providing students from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley an opportunity to spend a summer on the University of Arkansas campus to complete a research project. He received a $481,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates, or REEU, to support the program for at least three years.

The students collaborated with faculty mentors from the departments of entomology and plant pathology and poultry science to complete an individual research project.

“I feel like, as a group, we have done well,” Kariyat said. “We want to see if we can bring in more than six students next year, and we definitely want to reapply for this grant when it runs out.”

Kariyat said he also hopes to expand the program to other faculty mentors that have shown interest.

Kariyat conducts research through the experiment station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. He also works with the Cooperative Extension Service and teaches courses through the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

Madrigal is a senior studying biology with aspirations to become a veterinarian. She plans to apply for veterinarian school or return to the University of Arkansas as a graduate student to study veterinarian entomology. She collaborated with Kariyat and Jessica Ayala, a graduate assistant in the department of entomology and plant pathology, for her research project.

Kariyat is working with Bradley Christoffersen, assistant professor of biology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who helps with the logistics of the program from Texas.

A summer of science

The program benefitted both the students and involved faculty, Kariyat said. For the students, it allowed them to explore a new place and experience attending an R1-rated university. R1 is the highest rating from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education for research-focused institutions and represents 3.7 percent of public and private universities.

“The way that the labs are situated here, and the type of research we do, is quite new for them,” Kariyat said. “They also were able to understand how a research lab works with the students and postdocs and others.

“They all got to do some interesting experiments. Although it was a short time, they also learned to write a little bit, analyze some of the data and make a poster, which is no joke to put together a poster in a very short time,” he said.

The students presented their posters to a group of faculty members at the end of the program. Kariyat said he also hopes the students will attend the Subtropical Agriculture and Environments Society conference in south Texas using grant funds earmarked for that purpose.

Kariyat said the students’ research studies from the summer will hopefully lead to larger projects, more research presentations and peer-reviewed manuscripts.

Madrigal will return in October to present her poster at a conference that the Bumpers College Honors Program will host. 

Madrigal said she feels lucky to have attended the program because not everyone has that chance. Fear of leaving home, or family responsibilities, tend to keep students from wanting to branch out, she said. As the oldest child in her family, she experienced those thoughts of doubt but still applied because of the opportunities the program presented. 

“When I heard about this program I was like, ‘Wow, this is such an amazing opportunity,’” she said. “And I really hope that after I’m done with this program, they keep doing it.”

Empowering interactions

Kariyat said that even though the faculty have interacted with many students from various schools, he does not think they have had the opportunity to interact with students at that stage of their career for such a short and intensive period.

“I think that has been a very interesting thing for the faculty,” Kariyat said based on the feedback he received from his fellow mentors. “The students are all from one specific region of the country, south Texas, so they bring in a very distinct and interesting experience from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.”

Asia Kud, assistant professor of nematology, was a collaborating faculty member this summer. She said witnessing the students’ enthusiasm and growth throughout the summer has brought her an abundance of joy and satisfaction.

“Seeing the determination and motivation of the REEU students to seize every moment of their brief stay at the University of Arkansas was truly inspiring,” Kud said. “The sense of pride in their achievements during the final poster session made me confident that this program is a great success and will leave a lasting impression on them.

“Undergraduate research opens doors to personal and professional growth, empowering students from underserved backgrounds to excel academically and contribute meaningfully to their careers,” Kud said. “I am really glad to be a part of that journey for this year’s REEU students, and I look forward to the next year’s program.”

Ken Korth, the department head of entomology and plant pathology, said the department is proud of the research the faculty members oversee, and it is rewarding to allow new scientists to join in.

“It is always exciting for us to welcome new faces to our department and campus,” Korth said. “These students were an exceptional group of individuals.

“Dr. Kariyat, and all of the faculty mentors involved, ensured that the program went smoothly and that the participants had an enjoyable and fulfilling experience,” Korth said.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices.

Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

# # #

Media Contact:
Nick Kordsmeier