Being a Part of Research at Purdue

There are many of us in NRES that want to make a positive impact when it comes to the environmental challenges we face as a global society. NRES students and staff have inspired me with the variety of options available and have shown what they look like. I have taken a keen interest in research in particular and finding ways to use it to generate insightful information that can be of important use in future decision making.

I recently finished some trials for a study on atmospheric CO2 level impacts on tomato plant immunity to a foliar pathogen (Botrytis cinerea) with an endophyte (Trichoderma harzianum) as its mutualistic partner aiding in said immunity. These trials were conducted in environmentally controlled CO2 chambers with help from staff at the Horticulture greenhouse and my PI (principal investigator) in the Soil Microbiology lab. The study can aid in better understanding how CO2 plays a role in plant immunity and if it worsens or improves plant health. Three different tomato plant species were also used to make comparisons of the species. These insights will allow decision makers to make decisions on the types of species that may be more efficient to use to grow tomatoes if one has better immunity than the others as CO2 levels continue to increase.

My project is just one of countless projects that can be done to gain knowledge for society to be better prepared with the coming changes that climate change will and is currently bringing about. My suggestion for those starting out in research fields of interest is to ask the professors who’s classes you enjoyed if they have positions available for an undergraduate research assistant. You can also do research for credit if there are not many options you find. Additionally, looking up or asking around about professors with your environmental interest, be it climate change, social sciences tied into environmental sciences, water quality, etc, goes a long way. Check out the papers the professor published and then send out an email expressing your interest in their research as well as a brief mention of who you are and why you are interested in working with them. 

I have found that working in a lab and getting to know my coworkers, graduate students, and postdocs have all helped shape and narrow down my interests in research. I have also gained key skills throughout the years in four different labs that have aided me in my current and future work as well. Typically an undergraduate researcher is doing the research formed and constructed by other people. However, once confidence and more understanding of the research process builds, there may be opportunities to create your own project and apply for funding as well. The Martin Agriculture Research scholarship is a fantastic resource for NRES upperclassmen to take advantage of and apply to conduct their research of interest and present at the Undergraduate research Conference at Purdue. I would also lastly recommend to not be afraid to use your imagination to create projects that can create meaningful impact. It is young scientists like us that are needed to find solutions and create a better understanding of the challenges we face and how they will impact human society and non-human beings at large. 

If you would love some guidance or ask more questions about this topic, I would happily oblige via my email sesquive@purdue.edu.


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Education Beyond the Classroom

One of my favorite aspects of the NRES program is that the curriculum is designed to supplement book-work with hands-on experience. I’ve found that labs and other interactive activities in my courses have greatly enhanced my learning experience. I will give you a preview of some of my most engaging courses from the Fall 2020 semester and explain how they have been beneficial to my professional development.

In my “Soils and Landscapes” class (AGRY 565), we had weekly field trips to Purdue agricultural sites to practice soil classification. We learned how to identify various soil characteristics such as texture, color, and structure, which are valuable skills for students planning to pursue internships/careers with agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service or environmental consulting firms.

In “Soil Biogeochemistry” (EAPS 518), we hand-collected soil samples and then performed biogeochemical field-tests to assess soil health. This class provided a unique opportunity for students to experience the entire research process, from sample collection to data analysis, and I found it was particularly helpful in my preparation for graduate school.

I was also enrolled in “Seminar in Environmental Education” (EDCI 516), which was different from my typical STEM-focused courses. We learned pedagogical techniques for teaching environmental science material (focused on K-12 students), and upon completion of the course, we earned certification in Project Learning Tree (PLT) Secondary Environmental Education Modules. My favorite part about this course is that it included a variety of excursions to practice the material, including a trip to Celery Bog for a tree-identification activity.

So, if you’re interested in a major that provides meaningful, practical experience (with the added bonus of getting outside during some classes) NRES may be for you!



Internship with NICHES

This summer I interned with NICHES Land Trust which was an amazing opportunity that taught me so much and allowed me numerous, unique experiences. NICHES protects land in west-central Indiana from development and restores woodlands and prairies for the public’s enjoyment. I have been volunteering with NICHES since fall of my freshman year and heard early-on about the potential to intern over the summer; I knew right-away it was something I wanted to do. A large part of my internship was spent learning about stewardship and working hands-on chemically and mechanically eradicating invasives, collecting and spreading native seeds, and transplanting plants such as trees and sedges to guide properties in the right direction. I was even able to be a part of great opportunities like hand pollinating orange fringed orchids, floating nearby creeks, co-leading an orchid hike, and helping at volunteer workdays. For three weeks, I helped run the NICHES kids summer camp where we explored properties, found neat animals, identified plants, and enjoyed the great outdoors. One of the most valuable things I learned while interning this summer was the immense amount of plant identification which would be hard to get anywhere else. My time with NICHES has shaped my future and affected my outlook on conservation by reinvigorating my passion for nature and solidifying my future plans to pursue a career in land conservation and ecological restoration. I strongly suggest taking advantage of internships early in your college career to better learn what field you want to enter and to gain work experience.  



Looking for Summer Internships

Second semester generally marks the time that we all start looking for summer internships. It may be stressful, so here are a list of tips for how to prep so it isn’t as overwhelming when you find an internship you want to apply for:

1. Look on job boards to see what kind of internships are available and where you would potentially like to apply. Checking the NRES internships and newsletter email can be a great place to start!

2. Update and look over your resume. Even if there isn’t anything new to add, looking over your resume to update formatting, punctuation, and small changes that make you feel prepared. You can find more information about resumes on Purdue’s CCO website.

3. Go to the FNR career fair. Even if you don’t see a specific internship you want to apply for, learning how to talk to different companies and organizations will make you feel more confident when talking to the place you want to apply. The next FNR career fair is February 10th, 2021 and is virtual!

Waterfall at Clifty Falls State Park, where I worked as a seasonal naturalist in the summer of 2019



Coming to Purdue from Out-of-State

One of the most asked questions asked amongst college students: Why did you chose the school you attend? In my opinion, I tend to answer that question more often than others. I am originally from New Orleans, which is roughly 900 miles south of Purdue University. The distance does not seem so far on paper, but I define both places as two different worlds. Currently, the Coronavirus pandemic only further amplifies the distance between my school and my home. I wanted to share why I chose to go out of state to hopefully ease some people who are also contemplating the decision of moving a couple hundred miles from home (or even thousands – Purdue has a lot of international student). I also expect everyone has some form of distance occurring in this time and may want some tips to learn more about how to handle the adaption. Below is a list a tips I found helpful.

  1. Look up extracurriculars to join that you find interesting. Boilerlink is a great way to look up clubs and groups that have similar interests. I also suggest going to about any club call-outs that are happening. The club may surprise you and you might even notice some people in the clubs you are checking out. Most majors also usually have clubs connected.
  2. Join study groups. Study groups will not only help you understand class materials, but they are a great resource in finding people who will be in the same classes as you at your time here at Purdue.
  3. Go to Purdue events. Events like career fairs, club fairs, sport events help you meet others with the same interests as you.
  4. Walk around campus. Simple walking (or running) across campus helps you learn Purdue’s campus and building locations. This just helps you around campus, especially when classes start up.
  5. Try new activities. (Related to the first tip) you could find some new hobbies and activities that introduce to people and help you around campus.
  6. Find a job. A job on or near campus automatically connects you to other students on campus. The job will also help you with time management and stability.

Hope everyone had happy holidays and a happy new year! Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about Purdue. I am happy to talk to any perspective students, new students, or currents students that would like to learn more about the NRES community!



Sweden Study Abroad

Purdue is a great university when it comes to study abroad. I knew I also wanted to, and with the study abroad financial assistance, almost my whole trip was covered besides transportation, food, and recreation. In July of 2019 I went to North Eastern Sweden for a month with Purdue Students, NCSU students, and students from a few universities around Sweden. We visited four cities: Umeå, Vindeln, Sorsele, and Ammarnäs. Throughout the trip we learned about preservation practices, wind power, hydroelectric power, fish migration, wildlife, and forestry. When I was there, I saw so many things that I had never seen before. I saw the top of mountains from other mountains, streams flowing from mountain snow, weasels, wild blueberry bushes, and a reindeer. The combination of clean mountain water and fresh blueberries is unbeatable. One of my favorite activities was white water rafting on the Vindeln River. I had never done it before, and it was something I would love to do again. If you have never left the country before, you should take advantage of Purdue’s study abroad opportunities!



Why does the world need more NRES students?

There was never a moment I doubted my choice to pursue an NRES major. However, that does not mean there were not moments I struggled in this discipline. Learning about the environment can be beautiful, but it can also feel discouraging. I have learned about the most exotic marine creatures, identified soil textures using the palm of my hand, became inspired by influential figures that have paved the way in environmental justice, the list goes on… I have also learned about the dangers of the looming climate crisis, the vulnerable populations that are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, the growing garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean, and the beginning of a mass extinction. It can feel heavy to carry all of this knowledge. 

I struggle when I learn about all these disasters and realize how unaffected my life is by them, but how impacted others lives are. I entered college as an NRES student with a passion for the beauty of the natural world, but I am going to graduate with an ambition to create a better world. Oftentimes I think if everyone had the opportunity to be an NRES student, the world wouldn’t even have any environmental issues, just a bunch of friendly tree huggers milling about. 

NRES students graduate and become lawyers, professors, scientists, lobbyists, researchers, and so much more. I have been lucky enough during my time as a student to build my own research project, travel to Australia and New Zealand, work for the state government, and make everlasting friendships with some of the most selfless and driven people I have ever met. All of my experiences have built me into a stronger environmentalist and a better person. 

The students that are in this major mean business. NRES students are truly pursuing what they care about – and what they care about is protecting our planet. They want to use their voices to speak for those who are not heard, they want to make sure our country has potable water, they want to build renewable energy solutions, they want to rehabilitate endangered species, they want to teach others the importance of doing all of these things – and more. NRES students are learning about how they can make the world a better place, not for themselves, but for everyone. The world needs more NRES students.



Zoom Fatigue

“Zoom University” is a term many of us were quick to adopt, and (sadly) Zoom is something that isn’t going away this next semester. I know personally this increase in time online has led to Zoom fatigue, which is exhaustion caused by continuous video calls. While this isn’t an official diagnosis yet, psychologists do acknowledge that this condition is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society.

Since schedules have just been released and many of us are now faced with the reality of another semester of online lectures and meetings, I wanted to share some of the most useful tipis I have found for fighting Zoom fatigue.

  1. Always have an agenda. Nothing is worse than when you are on a call that seems aimless and just takes up time. Write out talking points ahead of meetings and don’t be afraid to get straight to the point. This will make things more efficient and productive. Also, do not be afraid to ask others who organize calls for an agenda.
  2. Avoid multi-tasking. I think we have all fallen into the pit of using our phones during a lecture and learning nothing presented in the hour. It is easy to do, especially if your camera is off. To help with this, I downloaded the app Forest so that I wouldn’t use my phone during lectures. I also found that taking hand-written notes of the material helped me to stay focused.
  3. Hide your own video from yourself. In a normal conversation, you can’t see your expression/reactions/what you are wearing, so it can be strange to see them on a video call. It can also lead to us paying more attention to ourselves and what we are doing than on the others in the call. You can use Zoom’s “hide myself” feature to see others, but not yourself on calls.
  4. Schedule phone calls or just email if you can instead. This can save both time and energy for everyone involved. Writing emails can also allow you to better develop your ideas before you share them.
  5. Most importantly, schedule free time for yourself! This past semester, I found myself filling every gap I had with meetings since they are easier to schedule virtually. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have 12 hours of back-to-back classes and meetings. Eventually, I learned to literally write free time, meals, chore time, etc. into my schedule. This way I had time to complete important tasks that were previously put on the back burner and have time to take care of myself.



Juggling Student Organizations and Learning Time Management

Even before starting my collegiate career at Purdue, I knew that I wanted to become involved in organizations on campus. Through Boiler Gold Rush and events like the College of Agriculture Ice Cream Social, I was able to learn more about different clubs and their level of involvement throughout campus. 

Over the course of my freshman year, I joined several different student organizations that allowed me to be involved in the College of Agriculture, the Honors College, Greek life, and student government. Although I loved staying busy, it began to take a toll on my mental and physical well-being. This period helped me learn the valuable lessons of time management and prioritization, both of which I will use for the rest of my time as a Boilermaker and beyond. 

Being able to balance rigorous schoolwork, extracurriculars, maybe a campus job or research position, your social life, mental health, and everything else that comes with being a college student begins with understanding your priorities. Most of us only spend four years in college, and while this time period is incredibly transformative, it can also be very challenging to navigate. By prioritizing your involvements and evaluating their benefit to you (i.e., a professional organization to gain leadership experience, an intramural team to stay in shape and destress), you can decide what commitments best fit the life you want to have on campus. 

Saying no to the opportunities that you may not be able to 100% commit to or deciding not to further pursue one because it no longer interests you is perfectly normal. Your interests and passions may fluctuate as you go through Purdue and learn more about yourself and who you want to become, but that’s one of the most exciting parts of college! Enjoy it because it goes by in a flash! 

If you have any questions or just want to chat about life, feel free to email me at owyrick@purdue.edu!



Activities Around Campus

Throughout my three and a half years at Purdue I have attended and participated in activities that have made my experience here even more rewarding. Some of my favorite events I have attended at Elliot Hall are the Purdue Christmas Shows, Bill Nye: Life Beyond Earth, and a Young the Giant concert. I even attended a Cage the Elephant concert there my senior year of high school. I also enjoy attending academic presentations and seminars. My favorite presentation I attended hosted by a famous environmentalist Bill McKibben, in which he spoke about his global environmental movement 350. Since I volunteered at the event, I was invited to have breakfast with him and the rest of the volunteers. One of my favorite organizations I was involved with was Boiler League of Tag (BLT). This club has Nerf based activities such as capture the flag and Humans V.S. Zombies. This club was a great opportunity to be active, learn team skills, and make friends. Lastly, whenever it is warm you can see me riding around campus on my longboard. I hope to join the longboarding club this spring and make some more friends to skate with.



A Semester During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review

This past semester has been unlike any other semester that I have experienced at Purdue. With hybrid classes, COVID testing, and Zoom meetings galore, I and all my fellow Boilermakers, have persisted through a crazy semester that we will definitely remember for years to come. In this blog post, I’m hoping to shed some light on what it was like to be a student at Purdue University during the pandemic.

Let’s start with classes themselves. I was an in-person student living off campus, but my time on campus was severely limited. I was enrolled in five classes: one met in person all the time (at least until October, but I’ll come back to that), one met on Zoom for lectures and labs (except for a few special circumstances; again, I’ll come back to that), and three that were completely online and done independently. My class that met in person met in a classroom that can normally hold about 60 students, but there were only 30 of us enrolled in the class. From what I understand, this was the normal enrollment for the class, but we were moved to a room that allowed us to follow social distancing protocols. This class eventually moved to Zoom lectures because the in-person attendance reached a point where only four people were in class, while the rest were online, so my professor decided it was time to go completely online. As I previously mentioned, one class met on Zoom except for a few special circumstances. These were three labs where we actually got to do the labs instead of watching a demonstration during our lab time, as well as our midterm exam. Despite the fact that the class only had 18 people enrolled in it, only 9 of us could be in lab at once, so our arrival times had to be staggered by group number. I was so excited to get to see my friends from this class in person! My three remaining classes were completely online, and they had some similar features, including weekly lectures, quizzes, and discussion boards. I found my planner to be even more important than during a normal semester, because it was easy to miss a small assignment when each class had such similar weekly activities.

Now let’s talk about clubs. I’ll be honest, I’m not very involved at Purdue. This semester I was an NRES Ambassador and a Protect Purdue Ambassador, and both of these groups used virtual meetings and messaging methods to keep everyone connected. The NRES Ambassadors had bi-weekly-ish meetings on Zoom and we stayed in contact with each other using GroupMe. I missed seeing everyone in person, but our health and safety was the most important thing. The Protect Purdue Ambassadors had monthly meetings with everyone on Microsoft Teams, and I also had bi-weekly Zoom meetings with my Protect Purdue team, where we discussed the projects we wanted to complete this semester. We mostly stayed in touch using GroupMe as well. Other clubs on campus were pretty much the same, with virtual meetings and group chats, but some clubs could get approval for in-person events. For example, our Environmental Science Club had an in-person movie night in early November. Even though things were weird, there were still ways to stay connected at Purdue, and I think that’s really great. Getting to interact with others is super important right now, and I’m grateful that there were still opportunities to do so.

Speaking of Protect Purdue, there were a lot of changes on campus to make sure that everyone on campus stayed safe and healthy. These changes are outlined in the Protect Purdue Plan and Pledge, so I won’t go into the fine details. Some of the main changes were: masks required inside at all times, socially distanced seating in classrooms, wipes in each classroom to sanitize your desk, and COVID surveillance testing. Thanks to the Purdue community, we were able to stay in-person until our predetermined end date during the week of Thanksgiving. This semester was weird, it was new, and it was even hard sometimes, but we did it. I don’t know for sure what the spring semester will bring, but after this semester, I know that I, and my fellow Purdue students, can get through it.



Public Policy Internship in D.C.

In the 2020 spring semester I left West Lafayette to live in Washington D.C. for an internship in the House of Representatives. 

For my internship I worked for Representative Jim Baird of Indiana’s fourth congressional district (IN-04).  It was an amazing experience that opened my eyes to the wide and bustling world of American politics and policy.  I was front and center to huge important events like President Trump’s impeachment trial, the Soleimani Airstrike, and the Coronavirus Pandemic.

I worked closely with numerous of congressional staffers, legislative directors, and chiefs of staff on projects and proposals.  For instance, I wrote memo briefs on hot topics like surprise medical billing, analyzed legislation comparison on the U.S. Farm Bills, and co-sponsor information cards for bills Hon. Baird was proposing. 

As a full employee I had full and complete access to government facilities to work in that normal people usually cannot explore.  This included the Capitol Building, U.S. House and Senate galleries, the Library of Congress, and the underground tunnel network benefit the city (I would literally walk through Nancy Pelosi’s office chambers while running paperwork to the Capitol!).  I also attended committee hearings help by Congressmen and briefs to learn more about issues facing our government.

I would recommend a ‘Capitol Hill’ internship to anyone interested in the world of policy and politics.  The experience not only educates you, but enables you to experience what it is really like within politics (and let me tell you it’s not how it may seem).

Questions? Contact: Bernard1@purude.edu