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K-State Research and Extension News

Summer program helps minority students prep for graduate school

Eight undergraduate students conduct research online

August 26, 2020

MANHATTAN, Kan. – A program that gives minority students a head start on graduate or professional school showed its resolve – and creativity – this summer.

The 2020 research fellowship for undergraduate and graduate students in Kansas State University’s College of Agriculture moved to an online format this year due to the global pandemic.

That’s not unusual during this time, but it did create a unique set of challenges for a program that pairs minority undergraduate students with faculty mentors to conduct research and learn about careers in food, agriculture and related sciences.

“Normally, these students would work with the most modern facilities and equipment, and would interact with industry professionals and their campus research supervisors,” said Zelia Wiley, assistant dean and director of diversity in the College of Agriculture.

Instead, with the K-State campus closed since mid-March and most of the summer, eight students from historically black colleges and universities adapted their summer plans to learn from leading K-State scientists via a computer screen.

“One often thinks of research as being very hands-on, so it was interesting to get this perspective,” said Karsyn McCain, a senior this fall at North Carolina A&T University studying animal science.

McCain was paired with Jennifer Bormann, a professor and graduate program director in K-State’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry. Together, they studied the water intake of various breeds of beef cattle.

“The transition to conducting research online will be very helpful to me in the future because this could become a new normal,” McCain said. “My (classmates) and I have been one of the first to have knowledge of how to operate in an online setting.”

During the eight-week program, the students attended virtual sessions to learn about applying to and finding funding for graduate school, using library databases, diversity in the workplace, applying ethics to research, how to communicate research findings effectively, and more.

Students spent most of the final four weeks of the program working directly with their faculty mentors.

“It was extremely valuable to connect with so many amazing researchers and company personnel,” said Evan Buckner, a senior at the University or Arkansas-Pine Bluff who worked with K-State professor of agronomy Anita Dille to study the water-use efficiency of plants to predict water use by weeds.

“Being able to grow plants at my house here in Arkansas and conduct experiments online with Excel spreadsheets was really an eye-opener to the fact that research does not always have to occur in labs or facilities, but rather anywhere that we may be curious.”

Other students that participated this summer, and their faculty advisors, include:

  • Kamaya Brantley, junior, University of Georgia, who worked with agronomy professor Dorivar Ruiz Diaz.
  • Daria Clinkscales, senior, Virginia State University, who worked with animal science professor Sara Gragg.
  • Terrell Hills, senior, Southern University and A&M College, who worked with grain science assistant professor Chad Paulk.
  • Miya McAntire, junior, Clarke University, who worked with entomology associate professor Jeremy Marshall.
  • Alyssa Perry, junior, Prairie View A&M University, who worked with grain science professor Greg Aldrich.
  • Jazmine Whitaker, senior, Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, who studied with animal science assistant professor Alison Crane.

“Obviously, doing research virtually was unique, but I think it really helped me in becoming adaptable and capable of functioning this way, which is an added experience to showcase my abilities,” McAntire said. “Another unique aspect of this program for me was being able to learn about diversity and inclusion in an immersive way. The connections I made and skills I learned will help me in my career and personal goals in making me more prepared for graduate school and the world of research.”

Wiley said she was grateful for support by K-State’s College of Agriculture in adapting the program to an all-online format.

“The global health pandemic did not hinder our efforts in providing our 2020 research fellows a rewarding educational experience,” she said. “We were resolved, and pleased with our continued university partnerships, especially the 1852 and 1890 universities.”

More information about future undergraduate research opportunities and K-State’s efforts to support diversity in the College of Agriculture is available online.

At a glance

Eight students from historically black universities and colleges showed their resilience as the K-State Research and Extension summer research fellowship moved to an online format.


K-State College of Agriculture Diversity Programs Office

Notable quote

“Normally, these students would work with the most modern facilities and equipment, and would interact with industry professionals and their campus research supervisors.”

-- Zelia Wiley, assistant dean and director of diversity, K-State College of Agriculture


Zelia Wiley

Written by

Pat Melgares


KSRE logo
K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit www.ksre.ksu.edu. K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.