CALS Students Help Rebuild the Past and Shape the Future at the BTU

By Raychel Rabon

The UF/IFAS Beef Teaching Unit is undergoing major transformations and students in the Department of Animal Sciences are working hard to contribute to the plans for this facility. One of the recent acts of student participation in the Beef Teaching Unit expansion came from Todd Thrift's Beef Background and Feedlot Management class.

During the spring semester, Thrift, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, was meeting with animal sciences faculty and others working on the ground breaking process for the Beef Teaching Unit expansion to discuss what needed to be done to begin the work.

"Discussions were centered on movement of dirt and placement of the extra soil. It was decided that most likely fences needed to be removed so that heavy equipment could be used to move soil from the existing hilltop into the feedyard area. The question rose as to who would tear down the fences," Thrift said.

It was decided that the work needed to be done as soon as possible and Thrift proposed that his class could get it done.

"My beef feedlot class has lab on Monday afternoon. I sent an email at about 11 a.m. to my class and told them to come to lab in work clothes and bring your hammer and wire pliers," Thrift said. "In our previous dilapidated facility, we routinely taught a lab on fence fixing and facility repair."

Later that afternoon, Thrift's students showed up to lab ready and excited to work.

"I had no idea how this might proceed. I was hoping to get a small stretch of the fence down by the time lab ends at 5 p.m.," Thrift said. "In a span of two hours all of the fence was down, wire rolled up, posts pulled and boards stacked. Had this been subcontracted it would have taken a week and $5,000."

Thrift commented further on this, suggesting that this is not out of the ordinary and that this is the type of work full-time ranchers do every day. He hopes to convey this story to show that these are the type of valuable students that the Department of Animal Sciences and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences are training and teaching who will eventually move on to serve in the local, national and global industry of agriculture.

"I think you will see this group be involved on many, many levels," Thrift said. "The connections they make in these classes will be the lifetime business partners that they deal with for the next 40 years."

The Beef Teaching Unit is an instrumental aspect in teaching and training the students in this program as well as others in the agricultural industry. This facility is used for class laboratories, Extension programs, and training for Extension agents, ranchers, and volunteer leaders.

The Beef Teaching Unit was built many years ago originally as a research facility and later renovated to add a teaching unit. The facility was greatly affected by the Florida hurricane season 10 years ago. Student living areas, barns, pens, and much more were discovered to be damaged in the aftermath of these storms.

Recently, the Beef Teaching Unit has received an allotment of $2.6 million from the Legislature during the 2016 session that has been added to the $1 million previously allotted during the 2015 session. The total of $3.6 million will be used to complete the two phases of the Beef Teaching Unit expansion. Phase one is set to be completed by August or September with phase two estimated to be completed in 2017.

Thrift attributes much of the progress on the Beef Teaching Unit expansion to the Florida Cattlemen's Association and other industry supporters.

"They are intensely supportive of anything and everything that we do that is involved with training young people," Thrift said. "They are our biggest champions by far."

Introducing the Florida Youth Institute

By Raychel Rabon and Samantha Grenrock

The UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences hosted the inaugural Florida Youth Institute (FYI) in July. FYI is a week-long pre-collegiate summer program sponsored by UF CALS, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the World Food Prize Foundation.

Rising juniors and seniors from across the state came to FYI in order to learn about issues in agriculture, life sciences, and natural resources and discover how they may fit into these fields in the future.

"FYI was created with an overall goal of engaging youth with issues in agricultural and natural resource sciences that affect Florida, the U.S. and world food security," said Elaine Turner, CALS Dean. "Ultimately, we hope to grow the talent pipeline by connecting students to academic programs in CALS that will prepare them for careers in agricultural and natural resource sciences."

Throughout the week, students had the opportunity to learn through hands-on experiences and interactions with researchers, instructors, and industry leaders at places such as the FDACS Division of Plant Industry, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, the UF/IFAS Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center, the UF/IFAS Student Teaching Gardens, and the Sensory Lab in the UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition Department.

"I thought FYI would be an amazing opportunity to explore more of Florida's agriculture rather than looking at it in a book," said Roddra Johnson, an attendee from Orange Park, Florida.

Nine FYI students were also recognized as Borlaug Scholars by the World Food Prize Foundation for their research on global issues as well as their presentation of scientific and policy recommendations for these issues.

"Out of thousands of high school students across the country, the 22 young leaders at the Florida Youth Institute stood out for their incredible enthusiasm and awareness of the issues," said Keegan Kautzky, director of national education programs for the World Food Prize Foundation.

Experiencing Medicine, Microbiology and Health in Europe

By Raychel Rabon

Students in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science had the opportunity to experience their field of study in a unique way this summer through the Medicine, Microbiology and Health study abroad program in Europe.

Over the course of two and a half weeks, this program took students on a tour of many countries in Europe including the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland while focusing on three subjects: medicine, microbiology, and health.

"I think every day [the students] encountered pieces of medicine, microbiology, and health besides the big pieces. … It is engrained in everyday life and emphasized in different visits we do," said Monika Oli, a senior lecturer and undergraduate coordinator in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science.

While focusing on the subject of medicine, students learned about European health systems and health care as well as some aspects of naturopathy. The subject of microbiology included the history of microbiology and real-life application. Lastly, students studied health by comparing how life in Europe is different than life in the United States.

During this trip, students were able to learn more about their desired field of study and the opportunities that are available to them by interacting with professionals, touring leading organizations and companies, and experiencing real life applications.

"This trip really opened my mind to a lot of different things," said Neha Saini, microbiology and cell science senior. I always thought that medicine was limited to the hospital and visiting patients, but after going to these research institutions and pharmaceutical companies and having interactions with doctors who practice in Europe, I realized that there is more that I can do."

For more information about this study abroad, contact Emily Grubbe with UF International Center (UFIC) at or 352-294-3335 or visit the UFIC homepage for current applications. Click here.

Class to Career – An Experience in Pork Production

By Raychel Rabon

In the sectors of agriculture and life sciences, there are countless career opportunities that go undiscovered by students, but dynamic courses that provide students with classroom education as well as hands-on experiences are helping to change that. A class in the Department of Animal Sciences that focuses on pork production and swine management has been reintroduced for students to discover what this part of the food animal industry has to offer.

"Most of our students, when they think about jobs in animal sciences they think 'I can become a veterinarian.' That is by and large the majority, and that is fine. We need veterinarians, but there are a lot of career opportunities in the food animal industry beyond becoming a veterinarian," said Chad Carr, associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences.

Carr revived the Pork Production course which offers hands-on learning experiences through lab activities and industry visits with a capstone trip to Tar Heel, North Carolina, to visit the world's largest pork producers Smithfield Foods. While on this trip, students were able to visit the grand facilities that Smithfield owns including the largest pork processing facility in the world and the second largest feed mill in the nation.

"There is nothing we can do on campus that would be the industry driven education that students get when they see the world's largest processor or the second largest feed mill in America. There is just no replication for that," Carr said.

This course incorporated other industry visits including Adena Meats' pork division in Chiefland, Florida, and Thompson Farm in Dixie, Georgia.

"There is only so much you can teach somebody about our industry at school. You can teach them all the science, but when you see a facility that is running 30,000 hogs like Smithfield, there is just no way for a student to get any concept of that at the local meat lab," Carr said.

This course was reestablished in 2015 after a 40-year hiatus when the Department of Animal Sciences observed that students were beginning to show more interest in completing their required internship credits within pork production. Recognizing the interest and the opportunity to lead students to other opportunities, the department decided to offer the Pork Production course for senior level undergraduate students.

The curriculum for this course focuses on many aspects of pork production in the food animal industry. Students start the course by learning about the industry itself and continue to learn other aspects of pork production and swine management systems including production flow systems, genetics, nutrition, reproduction, carcass merit, health, environmental constraints, pricing structures, and economics. Students in this course receive hand-on experiences including farrowing a sow, processing a pig, and cutting meat.

Carr believes that the combination of classroom education and hand-on activities helped students in this course grow in their knowledge of this large industry.

"I think a lot of students in that class had their eyes opened to a lot of opportunities that they did not realize." Carr said.

CALS Student Pursues a Passion in Environmental Science

By Tahlia Pollitt

"I didn't think I could do it," he said.

Environmental science senior Christopher Horruitiner almost missed an opportunity to pursue his dreams. The Miami native started at UF as a freshman majoring in French and English. While he had always been passionate about science, Horruitiner was reluctant to choose a major in science because he didn't think he could handle the coursework.

Now, only a year and a half after deciding to make the transfer to environmental science, he is returning from a summer of researching methane emissions from wetlands in Sweden. The research opportunity was offered through Research Experiences for Undergraduates, a National Science Foundation program, based out of the University of New Hampshire.

This particular region in Sweden has been a focal point for research in recent years because it is located in a zone of discontinuous permafrost.

"The greater goal here is, ultimately, to improve our predictive capabilities in terms of climate," Horruitiner said.

Horruitiner's work focused on identifying the types of vegetation, composition of sediments and levels of methane emissions throughout a series of lakes in the region.

"We wanted to understand what the sediments were like, so we could take what we knew about the sediments and the plants and ultimately the methane concentrations, so we could make correlations," he said.

Horruitiner said a typical day in Sweden included 16 hours of work. Much of his time was spent in a rowboat surveying and recording vegetation and sampling soil throughout the lakes.

"The days were very long. The sun in that latitude doesn't set in the summer, so it's 24 hours of sunlight. It (the sun) will dip behind the mountains for maybe 3 hours and be kind of dark," Horruitiner said.

Horruitiner first participated in an REU last year studying phytoplankton in the Gulf of Mexico. Karen Bray, his adviser for environmental science, originally recommended the program to him. He credits the environmental science program in the School of Natural Resources and Environment for exposing him to a variety of fields.

"Being here at UF really prepared me through and through. In particular, the environmental science major is very interdisciplinary, and I think that was really crucial," he said. "It forces you to explore different fields, and being introduced to everything was really important for me in finding out what I really wanted to do."

After transferring to environmental science after two years, he had already earned enough credits to accept a minor in French, and he decided to pursue a minor in soil and water science as well.

"I just pursued a passion and decided to challenge myself," Horruitiner said.

Horruitiner finally decided to change his major after taking a biological anthropology class as an elective. He now plans to attend graduate school and continue working in applied research science.

His involvement in the REU has provided him with professional connections, fueled his passion for research and opened his eyes to pursuing research abroad.

In December, Horruitiner will travel to San Francisco to present his research at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, the world's largest Earth and space science meeting.

"The NSF sponsored REU programs offer exceptional opportunities for undergraduate students, and we encourage our students in the School of Natural Resources and Environment to take advantage of those opportunities," said Thomas Frazer, Ph.D, director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

For more information on REUs, visit

Creating a Healthier Campus— CALS Students Take the Lead

By Tahlia Pollitt

CALS students and faculty are teaming up with seven other universities throughout the nation in an effort to create healthier campuses.

GetFRUVED (Get your FRUits and VEgetables) is a USDA grant-funded project that seeks to measure how different campus environments affect the health of college students. Four universities are serving as the control group, and four are implementing health-promoting activities as the experimental group. UF is part of the experimental group.

Students involved in the project have taken classes in social marketing and environmental interventions and/or peer mentoring. These students then set out to recruit freshmen to be part of the study.

"I'm really excited to be able to talk to these freshman and see where they're at, meet them where they are and see how I can help," food science senior David Barreto said.

The goal is to follow 275 students at each university during the course of a year. The study is limited to freshmen that are overweight or are at risk for weight gain. Data are collected from participants at the beginning and end of the study.

As one of the experimental campuses, UF students have created and are implementing a 24-week plan of health-promoting activities to take place throughout the fall and spring semesters. Study participants are the targets for these events, but all UF students are welcome to attend.

"We want to work on getting more people to the events because that's what we're here for, but just the fact that we've reached so many freshmen so far is really indicative of the fact that people want a change on campus," Barreto said.

Food science and human nutrition assistant professor Anne Mathews, Ph.D., RDN is leading the GetFRUVED effort at UF. Students have planned a variety of activities, including the "FRUVED-mazing race," salsa-making demonstrations and yoga events, Mathews said.

The focus of the events goes beyond healthy diets. They are aimed at promoting health in all facets, from stress management to physical activity, Mathews said.

"It (the FRUVED-mazing race) was fun," Mathews said. "The students were sprinting. They really wanted to win. The activities at each station across campus were fun and goofy, but also somewhat educational."

This project is unique because it is geared toward fostering a healthier environment for all students on campus rather than creating personal health plans for individuals, Mathews said.

Students involved in the project are assessing all aspects of the campus. The "walkability" and "bike-ability" were measured based on an assessment of walking paths and bike paths. Students also investigated the vending machines on campus and restaurants and convenient stores around campus, food science and human nutrition junior Brooke Denton said.

Students and faculty are aiming to implement this program in high schools next year, Mathews said.

"What we're hoping is that some of the freshmen that are really engaged will want to then go work with high schools, so it will sort of trickle down- the mentee becomes the mentor to the high school students," Mathews said.

GetFRUVED has grown rapidly at UF. More than 1300 freshman took the survey to join the study, and over 700 qualified based on demographics and dietary habits. The surplus of students at UF may go to help boost the numbers of other universities that are not seeing the same success in recruitment, Mathews said.

"I think it's cool, regardless of what the end result of the project is. It's really cool to be part of something that's bigger than yourself," Denton said. "This project goes way beyond me wanting to put this on my resume. It's something that we're totally invested in."

To learn more about GetFRUVED, visit

CALS Student Brings the Gator Good to Honduran Community

By Tahlia Pollitt

When she set out for Honduras on a research assignment at the beginning of the summer, interdisciplinary ecology graduate student Rebecca Williams did not realize the impact that she would have on the rural Honduran community of Candelaria.

Williams had previously spent two years in Honduras with the Peace Corps, and she returned this past summer to collect data for a USAID funded project through IFAS Global.

After working in the community for one week, Williams, who had been riding the bus to work with several schoolteachers, was asked to help in an unexpected way. The teachers wanted to build a library for their students but did not have adequate resources, so they went to Williams for help.

Unfamiliar with the community and the school, Williams was hesitant at first. The request weighed on her mind. Ultimately, she decided she had to do something for the community.

"It was really bothering me because I was there in Honduras to do my own research and further my own education, and here were these kids who had no books, so I decided I was going to go ahead and help," she said.

Williams immediately went to work raising funds. She compiled letters from the students with photos of the students and the school and presented them on an online fundraising site, She took to email and social networking sites hoping to gain support from friends, family and UF faculty back in the U.S.

Within a couple of weeks, Williams was able to raise more than $8,000, which would eventually go toward approximately 1,000 books, a new wall to create a space for the library and new bookcases to protect the books from the warm and humid climate.

"The crazy thing is, the majority of the donations actually came from strangers. People in my social network were forwarding it to their family members, and I think because it was a library, people could get behind it."

Once they had the funds for the project, making the library become a reality happened very quickly. Williams went on two trips with the teachers to purchase books, ranging from Jane Eyre and Robin Hood to children's picture books.

"They had a big list of stuff they needed that they didn't have, including dictionaries and teaching materials," Williams sad. "Once we had that, we just picked all kinds of books."

By the time the library was completed, Williams had only spent a total of four weeks in Candelaria. On her final visit to the town, the students, parents and other members of the community surprised her with a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for the new library, which was named in her honor, Williams said.

"I had so many parents come up to me one-on-one and thank me, telling me what a big difference this is going to make in their community," Williams said.

The impact of the library goes beyond the students. The community has a program that allows ninth grade students to pair with older members of the community and teach them to read. Prior to the library, students had to use their own textbooks to teach the adults. Now, they are able to learn with real books, Williams said.

"There are no books in the community- no newspapers, no magazines - nothing, so the parents were really excited too to be able to come in and sit down with the books," she said.

Candelaria is a unique community, Williams said. It is located in a very rural area, and the school is one of few that enroll students through ninth grade. Most schools in the area only have first through sixth grades.

"I'd like to see the school get through twelfth grade because it is clear right away that the people in my community (Candelaria) that have been through ninth grade, it's exactly what you hear about, lower rates of pregnancy, lower teen pregnancies and getting married later," Williams said.

Williams is back in Gainesville now continuing her Ph.D. program, but she keeps in regular contact with the teachers in Candelaria. She said there is still work to be done in the community, and she hopes to go back one day.

"I just really care a lot about this community," Williams said. "They really touched my heart, big time."

Williams is still working to acquire funding for the community to build three new classrooms for the expansion of tenth through twelfth grade.

To support this cause, visit

Gators in India- A Transformative Experience

By Tahlia Pollitt

For one UF professor, being a teacher is about more than educating students; it's about transforming individuals.

Every other year, family, youth and community sciences professor Muthusami Kumaran, Ph.D. takes a group of students on the trip of a lifetime through his home country of India. The trip is part of a study abroad experience called "UF in India: NGOs and Development."

The program evolved from a course in nonprofit management that used to be offered on campus in Gainesville. Kumaran and his wife, Leela, who works with the UF College of Education, took the inaugural group of students to India in 2012.

"My students came to me and said, 'Dr. K, you talk so much about India, why don't you take us to India,'" Kumaran said.

After taking 16 students in 2012 and 2013, enrollment for the 2015 trip filled in just six days. By the time the 2015 group of 18 students returned in August, there were already students signed-up for the next UF in India trip scheduled for 2017, Kumaran said.

"I have students still writing me from the first group that went, saying, 'Dr. K, you changed my life,' and that is powerful. That's what keeps us going," Kumaran said.

Over the course of five weeks, the students visit 18 nongovernmental organizations, the equivalent of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. Students have the opportunity to meet with the founders of the NGOs and get behind-the-scenes tours of the organizations.

Throughout the program, students are still participating in regular lectures. However, these lectures are often held in dining halls, on a bus or under a tree at various places throughout their travels, Kumaran said.

"You have to be willing to just completely be immersed in something else that you've never been immersed in before," said sophomore Jacquelyn Hoza.

Hoza, a nonprofit organizational leadership minor, participated in the most recent UF in India trip. Hoza hopes to return to India for an internship in the future. The trip was instrumental to her in making connections with NGOs for future opportunities, Hoza said.

"It's an intense program, but the bottom line is the transformative experience," Kumaran said. "They are changed for the better when they come back. They appreciate what they have here."

The students are offered insider knowledge of NGOs, but they aren't the only ones who benefit from the visit. While there, Kumaran works with NGO executives to teach them better management practices.

"This way, it's meaningful," Kumaran said. "They truly appreciate what we do, and they also welcome our students to see what they do in terms of impact and how they run the organization."

During their travels, the students visit the Taj Mahal, wear traditional Indian attire and eat traditional Indian meals, Hoza said.

"Sometimes it's without the comforts of home, without the foods that you recognize, without talking to your family for a few weeks- I feel like that's where all the real change happens and you learn about things," Hoza said. "You learn about yourself."

While the students gain valuable knowledge from the NGO tours and the lectures, the real transformation occurs through intense cultural immersion, Kumaran said.

"Yes, we take them to Taj Mahal, but we also take them to slums and rural areas and show them how people live, and how NGOs affect their lives," Kumaran said.

The goal of the trip is to provide unique insight into NGO operations, but also to develop global citizens, Kumaran said.

"These students, every single one of them so far, I can guarantee you, they are transformed for the better," Kumaran said. "They have become global citizens. They understand how different cultures work. They understand how NGOs work."

Throughout the trip, Kumaran uses Twitter to post pictures and updates on the group's journey. CALS dean Elaine Turner was one of many who kept tabs on the group.

"I really enjoyed seeing photos of the group, sometimes in traditional Indian dress, sometimes in Gator gear, and following their progress around the country through Dr. Kumaran's posts on Twitter," Turner said. "Study abroad was an important part of my college experience and I'm pleased to see our students getting these opportunities."

Biology Major Prepares Students for Success

By Morgan Davis & Tahlia Pollitt   • July 2015

One of the college's most popular majors is also one of its newest. Graduates from the biology major are just beginning to flourish professionally.

The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) developed the Biology major in conjunction with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). The unique collaboration between two colleges allows students to select from six different tracks and more than 100 courses to count toward their major in biology

In 2008, the first class of biology majors graduated from UF. Since then, the major has continued to grow and attract more students.

Ruan Cox Jr. was among the first students to graduate from the CALS biology major. Cox said his time at the University of Florida significantly impacted his entire career path.

"CALS is the best college at the University of Florida," Cox said. "I don't think I would have made it to where I am today without it."

When Cox began his education at UF, his plan was to become a dentist. After speaking with CALS Dean Elaine Turner, Cox decided to change his plans, and take his interest in science in a different direction.

Although a degree in biology would have still allowed for Cox's plans to attend dental school, he was able to choose one of four specializations offered within the major in CALS to best suit his desired career path. Within the CALS biology major, students are able to select from pre-professional, applied biology, biotechnology and natural science specializations.

Upon graduation, Cox was accepted into the Ph.D. program in the University of South Florida Department of Molecular Medicine.

Following completion of his doctoral program at USF, Cox hopes to focus on policy and research for better funding in basic sciences.

"Our biology students are well prepared for graduate school and a variety of careers," Turner said.

Although, at the time, the biology major was new to CALS, Turner and other faculty and staff members worked to create a supportive atmosphere for students with unique and personal advising opportunities.

"When you go to school to earn a degree, it's easier when you have a support group behind you," Cox said.

Cox is not alone in his success as a CALS biology graduate. Graduates from the CALS biology major continue to see success in many fields including agricultural science, wildlife and zoology, optometry, dentistry, genetics and botany.

For more information on biology and other CALS undergraduate majors, visit

Adviser's "Tough Love" Results in Lifelong Collaboration

By Tahlia Pollitt  • July 2015

Fifty years after graduating from the University of Florida, Ghazi Taki returned to Gainesville to accept the Gator100 award for the success of his rapidly growing company, Amazing Taste.
The first Gator100 awards were held in February 2015 to recognize the fastest-growing businesses owned or led by UF graduates.
Taki graduated with a degree in meat science from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 1965 and went on to develop a number of successful seasoning products. Taki said he would not be where he is today if not for his time at UF.

"Everything I know about meat tenderness and juiciness, and how you make food taste good and convenient – that's all Florida," Taki said.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in Baghdad, Iraq, then moving to Stillwater, Okla., to earn a master's degree in meat science from Oklahoma State University, Taki came to UF to continue his education. Taki's unique research efforts at OSU caught the attention of several graduate programs throughout the nation, but Taki was convinced that UF could offer him more than any other school.
"I heard that Dr. Palmer was one of the phenomenal meat science professors, and I thought that was an opportunity that I should explore," Taki said.

Zane Palmer, past professor in the animal sciences department, served as Taki's advisor throughout the course of his Ph.D. program.
"He (Palmer) was tough, very determined, and very demanding, but it was all good," Taki said. "Everything he had me do was a phenomenal thing for my career, and for my future."

As Palmer's only graduate student at the time, Taki got all of Palmer's attention. Palmer required that Taki take additional English language courses, retake organic chemistry courses, and even that he take several courses in the medical school to develop knowledge on specific technologies, Taki said.

"He was very generous with his time with me, but had high expectations," Taki said.

Palmer and the animal sciences faculty were working in collaboration with Publix Supermarkets during the time that Taki was a student at UF.

"We worked very closely with Publix, and all this was evolving beginning at a time when Ghazi was here as a student, so he became acquainted with Publix," Palmer said.

Several years after his graduation, Taki would meet Publix again when they became the first grocery store to sell his products, Taki said.

Taki's success came as no surprise to Palmer.

"He learned quickly. He was energetic, enthusiastic about his research and coursework, and he was a self-starter. He was ambitious. He set his objectives, and he persevered in the pursuit of these objectives," Palmer said. "All of these things, coupled with his pleasant, always cheerful personality, indicated that he should have a most successful career in the US- and of course, he did."

Over the last 50 years, Palmer and Taki have maintained contact, and kept up to date with each other's progress and research, Palmer said. Now 93 years old, Palmer was in attendance with Taki at the Gator100 award ceremony in February.

"I was very, very pleased," Palmer said. "I had followed his progress."

Entomology Research Takes UF Undergrad to Smithsonian Museum

By Tahlia Pollitt  • July 2015

While most undergraduates were studying for final exams and making summer plans, one entomology student was busy finalizing arrangements to travel to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Since last summer, Stefani Harrison, a senior, has been working on a research project with the goal of distinguishing between two species of Scarab beetles.

"These beetles are keystone pollinators," said Matthew Moore, doctoral student and lead researcher on this project. "They're involved in the pollination of many species of plants, so they are important for the functioning of the tropical forests."

The two species of beetles, cyclocephala mafafa and cyclocephala deceptor are virtually indistinguishable to the untrained eye. They are currently classified as two different species, but Harrison and Moore hope to conclude whether or not the two species are separate or if they are actually one species.

The team has spent several months studying more than 700 specimens of these beetles. They have conducted DNA tests and dissections and gathered detailed descriptions of each beetle for comparison, Harrison said.
After collecting data for almost a year, Harrison had the opportunity to travel to the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C., to study the type specimens for these two species of beetles. Type specimens are specimens that are selected to be representative of the species as a whole, Moore said.
"I went there to photograph them and get data off the type specimens to determine if cyclocephala deceptor is really a different species or not," Harrison said.

What Harrison and Moore didn't anticipate was the Smithsonian staff allowing Harrison to take the type specimens back to UF for further research. Having the ability to continue studying the specimens in the laboratory is a major advantage, Moore said.

"I was uncertain that they would let them leave with an undergraduate student," Moore said.

Moore explained that the Smithsonian houses a large collection of type specimens that are commonly used for research by many institutions. Although, it is much more common for graduate students and faculty members to be involved in these projects than undergraduate students, Moore said.

"I'm excited, but I just know you have to be really careful with specimens like that, and you need to take care of them," Harrison said.

Moore said he designed the project knowing that it would be a good opportunity for an undergraduate student to gain experience in research.

Harrison said she had expressed interest to her professors and advisors to be involved with research, so when the opportunity arose, she was immediately recommended.

"At the end of it, Stefani will have a paper, she'll have all this experience and all these professional connections," Moore said. "I designed this project with the specific intention to develop an undergraduate researcher. I knew we would have good results because I knew this was an interesting project."

Although she would like to focus future efforts on live animals, Harrison said her involvement in this project has influenced her educational and career goals.

"This project has definitely inspired me to push more towards beetles," Harrison said. "I've realized that Scarabs, and all beetles, are really awesome, but they're also not really acknowledged."

UF Students Work to Feed Their Campus Community

By Ashley McLeod  • July 2015

Students and faculty in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences are helping to eliminate hunger on the University of Florida campus while teaching practical skills to students with the unique, real life application of a community farm.

Faculty and students began using the Community Farm Student Garden as an outlet for research, engagement, teaching and charity in fall 2014.

"As students become more involved in local food systems, they connect the dots of all the aspects that it takes to bring food to their plates," Campus Food Systems Coordinator Anna Prizzia said.

Students are provided with opportunities of outreach and charity as they partner with the campus food pantry that the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will be opening this upcoming year.

Fresh produce that is grown at the community farm will be donated to help stock the pantry. Prizzia said that she is eager to see how the partnership of the community farm and the pantry will change the lives of students on campus.

"We are really excited about this partnership because no one should make the decision between textbooks and food or if they are going to be able to eat before a test," Prizzia said.

In addition to providing food to students on campus, the community farm is also helping to meet teaching needs for UF classes. The farm is being used to teach students through hands-on experience in practicum classes.

"We really hope to have an interdisciplinary group of faculty teaching classes on the ground because it gives students a unique hands-on experience that we are losing in this digital age," a professor in the Agronomy department and supervisor of the community farm Diane Rowland said.

The farm has also been an intricate tool for undergraduate and graduate student research as well as extension efforts.

Coordinators and students of the community farm also hope that the farm serves as an opportunity to connect with alumni.

"We would love for alumni or community members to come out to visit the garden spaces and see what we are doing," Prizzia said.

With the farm still being in the developmental stage, there are many opportunities for support.

"We have a lot of program needs and hope that the community will want to support us," Prizzia said. "This support can be done through helping to donate signage or contributing to the needs of the pantry."

For more information about the community farm, visit