Florida A&M University undergraduate students Quincy Hardy (left) and Prian Esquivel are conducting research at UD at the invitation of the Delaware Environmental Institute.

Summer scholars

Two Florida A&M University undergraduates conduct summer research at UD

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1:50 p.m., July 18, 2014--Two students from Florida A&M University are spending their summer doing research at the University of Delaware. 

Quincy Hardy and Prian Esquivel, undergraduates going into their senior year in Florida A&M’s College of Agriculture and Food Science, are at UD at the invitation of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) and are participants in the Delaware EPSCoR Summer Scholars program.

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The exchange started with a professional relationship between Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry and director of DENIN, and longtime colleague Robert Taylor, dean of the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences at Florida A&M. 

Taylor serves on DENIN’s external advisory board and has been a frequent visitor to UD, where he enthusiastically witnessed the building of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab), which houses DENIN, as well as many other teaching and research facilities on campus. 

Taylor understood that DENIN and the wider UD community were interested in engaging a diverse group of students and suggested providing summer research opportunities for undergraduates at Florida A&M.

Sparks and others from UD traveled to Tallahassee in spring 2014 to give a research presentation and meet with students at Florida A&M. As a result of this trip, Hardy and Esquivel were selected to participate in summer research in Delaware. 

This summer, Hardy, a food science major, is working in the laboratory of Rolf Joerger, a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at UD. His summer research focuses on the food-borne pathogenic bacterium Salmonella and the genetic basis for its tolerance of antibiotics and the acidic environment of the stomach. This is basic research that potentially lays the foundation for developing medication against food poisoning down the road. 

Although Hardy has taken part in the lab sections of his college courses, this is the first time he has worked in a real research laboratory. The work he is doing this summer complements the coursework he has taken at Florida A&M, explains Hardy, and he views his experiences this summer as preparation for graduate school, which he intends to pursue after college.

Meanwhile, Esquivel is working in Sparks’ laboratory under the mentorship of graduate student Josh LeMonte. The two of them are studying the potential effects of ocean water intrusion on contaminants in soils. 

Esquivel says he has gained valuable practical laboratory skills by helping LeMonte with his work and is in the process of establishing his own project in which he is pumping ocean water through soil samples to study the effects on arsenic mobility. His lab mates hope to continue this work even after Esquivel returns to Florida.

“[Dr. Sparks and my lab mates] have shown me what goes into research — the discipline, the effort, the determination that you need in order to go through each day and complete what you need to complete. It’s a process,” says Esquivel. “This has been a great opportunity. They’ve shown me a lot of the practical side of research and some of the dirty work. I’m enjoying it.”

Delaware’s EPSCoR program provides paid research internships for about 30 students each summer, as well as a weekly seminar series, career information and other resources for students in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Sparks said he hopes to continue the exchange with Florida A&M and plans to welcome more summer scholars in future years. These short-term visits allow students to get a feel for the campus and use the research facilities. 

Sparks and others from UD will be visiting Florida A&M again in late 2014. UD faculty members who are interested in proposing a project for Florida A&M students should contact Jeanette Miller, DENIN associate director, at 302-831-4167.

About Florida A&M University

Florida A&M University is one of 11 State University of Florida schools. It was founded in 1887 and is a historically black university.

About Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN)

The Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), founded at the University of Delaware in 2009, is an interdisciplinary incubator of research, knowledge and solutions specifically dedicated to safeguarding the environment and addressing environmental issues. DENIN provides academic, government and industrial partners broad access to experts from multiple disciplines in a collaborative effort to advance environmental science, promote environmental education and devise innovative, multidimensional strategies for environmental sustainability. 

About Delaware EPSCoR 

EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, is a federal grant program led by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help states develop their research capabilities and institutions. NSF has the largest EPSCoR initiative and is the lead agency for this program. Five other agencies participate in EPSCoR (the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and the Department of Agriculture). Delaware was designated an EPSCoR state in 2003.

Article by Sean Krepski

Photo by Evan Krape

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