This year faculty in PPEM are seeking to recruit approximately 11 students to the graduate programs in Plant Pathology (with dual titles in International Agriculture and Development or Biogeochemistry) and Intercollege Degree Programs. We are emphasizing four key areas of research by seeking students with interests in research, teaching, and extension related to Phytobiomes, Translational Taxonomy, Plant Disease Dynamics & Epidemiology, and Biological Control. In addition to online interviews with students, we hosted a number of recruiting weekends to which we invited students from California to Connecticut to visit the campus and PPEM. Faculty, students, and staff are participating in a variety of recruitment events (Happy Hour, Mushroom Research Center and Microscopy facility tours and more). The recruits hobnobed with the current graduate students and ask the recurring question: What is a Nittany Lion?
Students apply because they know our research and the value of a Penn State education in Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology. These weekends are an outstanding way share the transformation happening in PPEM. In addition to showcasing our science through individual meetings with faculty, we talk about our initiatives in South Africa and International Agriculture, we share our philosophy on mentoring and explicit development of professional skills, we highlight our diversity programming, and we describe the sense of community that exists in the department.
We also try to provide educational opportunities during the weekend. A tour of the world renowned Mushroom Research Facility on campus is always a highlight because most students don’t realize just how complex mushroom production is. It is industrialized microbiology at its finest and creating the substrate on which mushrooms grow takes more than mixing a few ingredients together. Thinking about scaling up from the work done in the lab to commercial production is mind boggling. Thanks to Drs. Beyer and Pecchia the students always walk away with an understanding of the complexity, scale, and scientific backbone of mushroom production and the impact of the PPEM mushroom program.
Most importantly, with these weekends we are not just building our graduate program, we are building the next community of Plant Pathologists. Recruits get to spend time with our current students and each other. They build relationships that will last a life time. We know that they will be working together as volunteers for the American Phytopathological Society from all parts of the country and perhaps the world. These meetings provide perhaps the first time that they will come together with others in their chosen profession and it provides a glimpse at their future.