Zahurones: FEEL Lab internship an invaluable experience

October 17, 2018 11:43 AM
Blog Post

The college classroom teaches you a multitude of things that you probably need to know in order to make sense of the world around you. But an internship that gives you experience in that world can mean the difference of succeeding in life or just getting by. As an agricultural communications major, I wanted a job that would help me to expand my knowledge in agriculture and give me some common public relations practice. Never did I imagine at the time that I would be working at the Iowa State University Field Extension Education Lab (FEEL) this past summer. This was an internship where I spent most of my days working out in the field rather than sitting behind a computer screen. It has been an eye-opening experience for me, working in a small environment among only three other people while at the lab; but it felt like a lot more as I was able to expand my network with different agricultural companies and Iowa State field agronomists, throughout the summer. The experience was much more personalized as I had the opportunities to learn about farm practices, hands-on, discover the science and experimentation that is done for Iowa State and work with Communications Specialist Ethan Stoetzer for Iowa State’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.

This summer, my original goal was to learn more applicable hands on knowledge about common issues that farmers face in the field every season. At the beginning of the season, I refreshed my knowledge through crop scouting and documenting weeds, and conducted plant staging in each of the 40-plus different test plots. Crop scouting was something that I enjoyed because solving problems and expanding my knowledge about weeds was something that I was really good at and loved to do in the field. I was able to expand upon my background knowledge since my courses as Des Moines Area Community College, especially learning the different types of grass weeds.

As interns, we also helped with experimentation plots. Some of these experiments included dropping several different species of worms into corn whorls, covering corn ear shoots with paper bags and even growing a vegetable garden and infesting the plants with aphids later in the growing season. All of these experiments gave me a greater insight to the kinds of research that is done by ISU extension specialists. Later in the summer I began learning how to drive the 770 John Deere Tractor for mowing. This was an experience that I remember because of the patience that my co-workers and boss displayed when teaching me to drive it. It was their goal to get me comfortable on that tractor from the beginning of the summer, which is one of the main reasons why this job was invaluable; because my employer wanted to help me succeed.

Throughout my internship, I had many different opportunities to learn about the types of research that were being conducted at FEEL. I categorized and learned the effects of different herbicides within plots of corn, soybeans and alfalfa. I was also taught the science behind the hybrid of BT Corn that we used for educational purposes. Among these, I had the opportunity to wash out and look through a root pit with agronomist Angie Reick-Hinz to understand root patterns in corn and soybeans.

Not only did I have this field experience, but I also had the liberty to make connections with other agronomy and plant pathology professors from Iowa State University. These connections greatly benefited my experience with this farm because I started to understand the research that was being done in these test plots, from nitrogen application, to herbicide injury to aphid infestation. I will also continue to have these connections and resources as a junior this fall at ISU majoring in agricultural communications.

This summer internship initially did not have anything to do with communications, but my employer, Warren Pierson, worked to make this internship valuable and relatable to my major. So I began working with Iowa State’s IPM program. I began working with communications specialist Ethan Stoetzer on news releases for crop management competitions that were happening at FEEL in the months of July and August. I also worked in photography and videography to document some of the sessions and workshops that happen on the farm, and integrated them into social media pages on Facebook and Twitter for Iowa State IPM and FEEL.

Overall, this was an internship that I felt held great value for my schooling and future career. Not only have I had an experience that was tailored to my major, but it was a small work environment where I could make valuable connections with agricultural professionals, as well as get my hands dirty in the fields that make Iowa what it is. But perhaps what sets this job above anything else I could have done this summer was the fact that Warren cared about the interns making the most of this job. I wasn’t always doing PR, and I wasn’t always mowing and pulling weeds. I'd like to also thank all of our specialists and agronomists for taking the time to talk to me, and push me to try things, as well as being patient and encouraging to me. This was a very diverse type of experience that I would highly recommend to any of my fellow students who are looking into a summer internship. Iowa State has helped me in more ways than one, and I feel more confident that ever for my future endeavors.  

Emily Zahurones