An internship in the agricultural research service leads to the hiring of a UAPB student

Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities

John Mitchell, a graduate student in the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities (SAFHS) at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) recently completed a paid internship at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Over the course of 10 weeks, he worked first-hand with ARS scientists based at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center (DBNRRC) in Stuttgart, Ark. Due to his work during the internship, he is now employed by the organization.

Mitchell specializes in agricultural regulation, with a concentration in plant science. He is originally from Fordyce, Ark. who hopes to become a geneticist/plant breeder. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business from UAPB in the spring of 2022.

Mitchell said he decided to enroll in the internship program because he wanted to work in an environment that offers cutting-edge government-funded research.

“The internship with DBNRRC made me feel like I was part of something bigger than me,” Mitchell said. “Everything done at DBNRRC makes a difference in the world. I’m happy to help with that.

During the internship, Mitchell’s responsibilities varied. He has worked with agronomists, pathologists and geneticists. He said he took greenhouse swabs, measured abiotic stress, checked leaf temperatures, and collected data from sensors showing soil temperature and moisture from fields, plants, and more.

DBNRRC research geneticist Dr Jeremy Edwards said Mitchell did so well in his internship that the organization offered him a part-time paid position. He is a biological science assistant who helps with various projects.

“The work John is currently doing will help him in his research for his master’s thesis,” Edwards said. “We hope John will be a great future leader in the rice research community.”

DBNRRC Research Agronomist Dr. Jai Rohila said Mitchell was a pleasure to work with.

“He is a very quick learner and a wonderful colleague. He works well independently, but he’s also a great team player,” Rohila said.

Mitchell said the most enjoyable part of her experience is working with plants.

“I have a ‘green thumb,'” Mitchell said. “I have a garden and I grow the best tomatoes.”

Mitchell advises undergraduates to take advantage of internship opportunities.

“Internship opportunities will help students decide their future,” Mitchell said. “Through the opportunities, you will find your passion. I studied agribusiness, crop insurance and other extension careers before I realized how much I really love working with plants.

Sathish Ponniah, an associate professor at UAPB, said he was very happy to have Mitchell employed at DBNRRC.

“Since working with DBNRRC, he will learn their advanced rice phenotyping techniques and teach me more. I am happy to be associated with the organization and to share my expertise as well. We plan to continue the internship with DBNRRC in the years to come.

Dr. Nina Lyon-Bennett, assistant dean for academics at SAFHS, said Mitchell’s achievement marks the start of an undergraduate internship program that will provide UAPB students with professional work experience from year by year. The goal is to provide undergraduate students with hands-on research experience that helps them apply textbook knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world experiential learning opportunities.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its outreach and research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion , age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

Lana T. Arthur