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Meera Komarraju: SIU’s Agricultural, Life and Physical Science programs prepare students for success

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The newly formed College of Agricultural, Life, and Physical Sciences (CALPS) combines a variety of programs that prepare students to address real-world problems during their careers.  

 Industry internships

A summer internship experience in agricultural crop protection with industry partner Syngenta, helped one student make a switch from an interest in law to a major in Crop Soil and Environmental Management, and a minor in Microbiology.  At SIU, this student continues to gain hands-on experience working in plant pathology labs with Drs. Jason Bond and Ahmad Fakhoury, performing industry-sponsored research with soybeans.  Similarly, Forestry has a long-standing relationship with a Southern Illinois tree care professional who organizes an annual industry field day at SIU’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center, providing students real-world training in arboriculture and vegetation management.  “Many students then gravitate toward these high-paying and in-demand professions that were not even on their radar when they first considered studying forestry,” notes Forestry Professor John Groninger. “We often hear employers say they appreciate the positive attitude and work ethic of the Salukis they hire, and they keep coming back for more.”  For instance, another student who completed a summer internship working in tree care and managing natural areas in rural Southern Illinois and the St Louis area learned how to talk to people from diverse backgrounds about nature and acquired the skills to help them better care for their environment. 

Research skills to address real-world problems

This spring, one of CALPS’s outstanding scholars and student researchers, Lincoln Weber, was named a Barry Goldwater Scholar -- one of only 410 students across the U.S. to receive this prestigious Excellence in Education Award. Hailing from Lafayette, Indiana, Lincoln is a physics major with a focus in materials and nanophysics. He works in Professor Saikat Talapatra’s lab and their work aims to improve the working of magnetic memory for next-generation computer devices. Like many SIU students, Weber joined a research lab as a freshman, providing him years of hands-on research experience and an excellent jump-start to his burgeoning scientific career.

Finally, CALPS faculty, staff, and students have contributed significantly to local, state, and national efforts to fight the pandemic. These efforts have included the Fermentation Science Institute’s production of an ethanol-based “Saluki Sanitizer” to help mitigate last-summer’s hand sanitizer shortage, and the School of Biological Sciences’ production of tens of thousands of units of viral transport medium for covid-19 testing performed throughout the state. Additionally, Associate Professor Keith Gagnon, jointly appointed in Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Medicine, leads an interdisciplinary laboratory that includes undergraduate and graduate students that recently gained international attention for their discovery of a new variant of the virus. This new viral variant, referred to as 20C-US, is believed to have originated in the U.S. and was traced by the Gagnon lab to Texas as far back as last May. 

As we look forward to in-person classes next fall, Salukis in general – and CALPS Salukis in particular – can take great pride in their real-world experiences that prepare them for professional success.  

Meera Komarraju, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, SIU Carbondale

Meera Komarraju is the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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