Next-Gen Scientists

The George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State provides an opportunity for the next generation of Carvers to develop their inner scientist.

The program brings high school students and undergraduates from across the U.S. to conduct research under the guidance of Iowa State experts. The high school program lasts six weeks and the undergraduate program lasts eight weeks. Interns grow personally and professionally through lab and field research, educational seminars, tours and professional development workshops.

Many of the Carver interns come from historically black land-grant universities, tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. The program is administered by the college’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion Programs by the Assistant Dean of Diversity Theressa Cooper.

“The program works to bridge the gap between students of color and access to technology, information and opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” says Cooper. “It helps champion the value of graduate education and prepare and recruit the best and brightest to pursue advanced degrees at Iowa State.”

For Ellen Brazelton (’15 MS genetics) the internship provided more than a summer experience. Brazelton, a regulatory specialist at Sensient Food Color in St. Louis, Missouri, says she was introduced to a caring community that encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree at Iowa State. The Tuskegee graduate researched soybean pathogens and conducted DNA extraction and gene mapping as part of her Carver internship in 2013.

“We were thrust into the project head-first, and it wasn’t long before we were nearly self-sufficient. The impact was tremendous—just to know that something we were doing as interns could potentially change how the crop is cultivated and save billions of dollars a year in soybean crops,” she says.

Alescia King is a graduate student from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, who will complete her master’s degree in food science this May. A 2018 Carver intern, King spent her summer investigating how commercially available rinse products may control the growth of salmonella on eggshells. She says she enjoyed getting to know other students throughout the summer.

“It was so neat to get to experience the other interns’ cultures. We got to hear stories from different people in different situations and it was really eye-opening,” King says.

King plans to attend Iowa State to work on a doctorate degree and has her sights set on an industry career.

“I want to do some form of food safety education, but I don’t want to just be in a classroom,” King says. “I want to be able to have the freedom to do my own projects but also be a part of the industry.”

The college has hosted a summer research internship program for high school and undergraduate minority students for 25 years. The program became known as the George Washington Carver Internship program in 1998. Since the start of the program, faculty have mentored more than 450 interns.

“My whole research group looks forward to having interns join us each summer; they bring so much enthusiasm,” says Sue Lamont, research mentor, C.F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Animal Science and equity adviser for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Each intern conducts a specific study that contributes to my lab’s long-term goals to improve global food security and animal health. I really enjoy when former interns tell me they’ve been accepted to graduate school or veterinary school to further their career goals, and that their experience in the Carver internship helped them to get there.”

In addition to hosting interns in her lab, Lamont co-organizes the interns’ weekend professional development retreat.

Several College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumni are active supporters of the program, returning to campus to serve as mentors at the retreat. Keith King (’11 PhD genetics, agronomy), agronomy claims specialist at Nationwide Insurance, says he sees his service to the program as a way to give back.

“While a student at Langston University, a historically black university, I was afforded the privilege to attend many conferences as an undergraduate to present research. However, I was rarely afforded the privilege to have access to professionals in this type of setting. My experiences allowed me to earn a doctorate in genetics from Iowa State. I believe I can share my experiences with the next crop of student leaders and hopefully inspire the next Carver,” says King. “Carver was a lifelong learner and teacher. Giving back by participating in knowledge exchange through the George Washington Carver Internship Program,
I can fulfill Dr. Carver’s vision.”

In 2018, the alumni team serving as mentors to the Carver interns during their professional development retreat were: Takiyah Sirmons (’08 food science and human nutrition) food scientist in the Space Food Systems Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center; Derrick Coble (’13 PhD genetics), assistant professor of animal science at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University; Brittini Brown (’09 MS industrial technology), director for assessment, research and strategic priorities at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and Keith King (’11 PhD genetics, agronomy), agronomy claims specialist at Nationwide Insurance.