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Agriculture research brings big opportunities to small towns.

I can't believe I'm gettin' paid to do this!" Dana Daniels' soft southern drawl is as incredulous as her excitement is contagious.

"Can you imagine" I actually helped create an almost-perfect plant." She is talking about using tissue culture to produce disease-free strawberry plants.

In a sleepy little southern town of 2,500 where economic security comes from manufacturing nightgowns and bluejeans, how could an 18-year-old high school senior have such an opportunity"

No Pizza Hut. no Hardees - the town can't even boast of a McDonalds.

But Poplarville, Mississippi, is home to the ARS Small Fruit Research Station. And because of its Research Apprenticeship Program, Dana Daniels is able to participate in exciting new research on plant diseases.

Daniels ranked number one in Poplarville High School's 84-member class of 1991 and now attends Pearl River Community College in Poplarville.

"This makes 2 years I've worked for ARS," Daniels continues. "Barbara Smith makes the work seem so easy."

She's speaking of the plant pathologist who has guided Daniels through the tissue culture work. Together they have also inoculated blackberries with a fungus that causes rosette, a serious disease of blackberries in the Southeast.

"One of the best feelings I've ever had was when I came back to the lab this year and saw that some of the plants I put in tissue culture last summer had borne brand new plants. Now those plants are just about ready to fruit," Daniels says.

And she is very much interested in new births. Daniels plans to be a pediatrician, specializing in allergies.

Although she knows she has a long academic road ahead. Daniels feels that she will succeed. "I've learned discipline here in this lab. I understand that research takes a lot of effort, and I've also learned that it sometimes takes a lot of time to get results."

Education and hard work are encouraged by Daniels' parents, both teachers in the local school system, and by her older sister who is entering her first year of graduate work at the University of Southern Mississippi.

"We'd certainly like to have Dana back this summer," Smith says. "We inoculated blackberry plants with the rosette fungus to see if summer temperatures would affect the disease. The plants should start expressing symptoms of the disease in late spring. So by the time school is out, we'll be ready to continue our study of how temperatures affect this disease."

Smith says she was very pleased with the interest Daniels took in her work. "In fact, if we want to interest our bright young people in agricultural science. the Research Apprenticeship Program is the way to go."

Many miles and a couple of states away, teacher Michelle Dyal of Byron, Georgia, is also enjoying hands-on research.

Like Poplarville, Byron is a small town. One of its major distinctions is the ARS Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory.

"One of my colleagues here at Northside High told me about the Teachers Fellowship Program available at the ARS lab in Byron," Dyal says. She teaches chemistry and biology at the Warner Robins, Georia, high school that enrolls about 1,600 students.

"Working at the ARS lab was my first exposure to applied research," Dyal explains. "In college, most of my classes were geared toward education and teaching. So even though I took science courses. I hadn't done any actual research."

Teachers. she says. are taught to present scientific methods step by step by step. In theory it all sounded so methodical and orderly. Dyal says. "But I learned at the Byron lab what |variables' in research really mean."

She found that "weather can play havoc with a research project. and too little sun or even a rain shower can drastically alter research results."

I think I'm a better teacher as a result of my participation, in scientific research." she continues.

"We had been thinking for some time about spraying pecan plants with common agricultural and household detergents and soaps to control aphids," says Byron's acting research leader Bruce W. Wood.

Since home gardeners use these types of sprays effectively, we thought we'd test them on an orchard crop."

Wood hired Dyal to be,in this particular research project.

He says there has been a movement for some time among, pecan growers to reduce the use of insecticides. At the same time, they needed to keep the harmful insect populations below economic levels. Detergents can do that. But one of the problems with using soaps and detergents, Wood explains, is that they can reduce photosynthesis.

They can apparently strip off the leaf's cuticle, leaving the exposed leaf vulnerable. In addition to agricultural detergents, Dyal experimented with common household soaps and detergents like Ivory, Cheer, and Tide.

"Ms. Dyal showed that some of the soaps killed pecan aphids without harming the plants or the beneficial insects or affecting the rate of photosynthesis," Wood comments. "She began the initial work, and we're hoping to hire her back this summer to continue the research."

He thinks that the project will be ready for publication in another year or so. And a certain science teacher may be well on her way to her very first research publication.

Administrators at the Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia, where Dyal is working on her masters degree, are impressed with her work. In fact, they are allowing her 10 quarter hours' credit toward the degree for her summer with ARS.

The Teachers Fellowship program is funded in part by the ARS Area offices. Research priorities determine where closely budgeted dollars must go.

Orlando, Florida, also links its classrooms to the real world of research. And George Yelenosky is the link between Orange County, Florida. science teachers and researchers at the ARS Horticultural Research Laboratory.

An ARS plant physiologist, Yelenosky has served as mentor to county science teachers for 3 years. Selected teachers spend 2 weeks at the lab where they, et practical experience in all aspects of citrus research.

"When I came to the ARS lab, I knew absolutely nothing about growing citrus," says Judith D. Smith. "Dr. Yelenosky taught me so much. It wasn't just a lecture - I actually grafted citrus. Also, I can now explain to my students what biocontrol really means."

Smith teaches 9th and 10th grade science honors students at Evans High School in Orlando.

Before teaching biology at Dr. Phillips Hi,h School, Mary Louise Grable spent most of her career in hospital laboratories performing medical research. Agricultural science is an entirely new field to her.

My reason for applying for this program," she says, "was to expand my own knowledge and ultimately that of my students. I felt this to be an unbelievable opportunity for better communications between those who teach science and those who apply science."

Grable says she now uses ARS researchers as resources. "Also, the Orlando lab has the best research library I've seen. I'm requiring my students to write research articles, and they are learning, their way around the ARS library."

And it's not just high school students who benefit from this program. Sixth graders at Orlando's Southwest Middle School are in for an intense science experience.

After science teacher Kim Ruhle Paschall spent time at the ARS lab, she co-sponsored a seminar on teaching techniques. The program description reflects the influence of lab lingo: "Growing, culturing. grafting, and nurturing budding scientists for a future harvest."

Claudia Walls, who co-sponsored the seminar, teaches biology at the Apopka High School.

"Apopka is like the plant capital of the world. Sometimes potential high school dropouts in this area think they'll be able to make a living by working in nurseries. They think they won't need much of an education to get by," she says. "My time with the ARS lab clearly demonstrated the error of this thinking. I now tell m students: if you want to work in a nursery, you must be trained in modern computer technology. There is much more to modern nurseries than just digging a hole and putting a plant in the ground."

This insight, she says, came from the day she spent at Foundation Farm near Leesburg, Florida, where ARS Orlando researchers use many kinds of scientific equipment and technology to plant and maintain their experimental research plots.

The Industry Study Program, sponsored by the Florida State Department of Education's Summer Science Institute. is touted as a partnership between the Orange County school system and science-related business or industry. The interaction brings the entire community closer together, promoting strong professional ties between industry and educators.

The four teachers who participated in the program at the Orlando ARS lab received credit toward their teaching recertification.
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Author:Stanley, Doris
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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