Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Three students from the South American country of Guyana are currently pursuing master’s degrees in agricultural regulations from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. In addition to regular coursework, they are fulfilling graduate assistantships through work on a UAPB project intended to increase the availability of high-quality sweet potato planting materials to limited-resource farmers both in Guyana and in the Arkansas Delta.
Ryan Nedd, Tiffanna Ross and Kenisha Gordon – all alumni of the University of Guyana (UG) in Georgetown, Guyana – are being trained in plant breeding, virus-indexing and other molecular techniques at UAPB’s state-of-the-art tissue culture laboratory. An integral part of the UAPB Sweetpotato Foundation Seed Program, the laboratory allows researchers to develop and multiply virus-indexed sweet potato slips. The experience the students gain using UAPB’s resources will aid in the development of a similar facility in Guyana in the coming years.
“The UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences (SAFHS) will greatly benefit from the contributions of these new recruits to the graduate program in agricultural regulations,” Dr. Edmund Buckner, interim dean/director for SAFHS, said. “Their work will strengthen sweet potato production in Guyana and help build applied research and international Extension capacity at UAPB.”
At the tissue culture lab, the students are working to breed sweet potato plants with better resistance to common diseases and pests. After hybrid plants are tested in the field, the plant lines deemed healthiest and virus-free will be multiplied for distribution to farmers in Guyana.
“This project is important for both farmers in Guyana and Arkansas because our sweet potato lines are being developed to increase production and yields,” Gordon said. “Often hindered by lack of access to high-quality planting materials, small-scale and limited-resource farmers will now be able to use these plants to expand their farming operations and foster economic stability within rural areas.”
Ross said sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients and are an important part of food systems around the world. The increased production of sweet potatoes at local levels in the Delta and in Guyana can lead to health benefits for both populations.
“I enjoy the in-vitro development and multiplication of virus-free sweet potato plants for student research and production by farmers,” she said. “Just the thought of being a part of a program that aids in improving agricultural science and enhances food production is exhilarating and purposeful. Being able to carry out research on sweet potato DNA and explore new avenues of enhancing this crop for full utilization of its inherent nutritional value is even more remarkable.”
Nedd said continued cooperation between UAPB, UG and organizations such as the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute in Guyana will lead to more shared research opportunities for sweet potato crop enhancement. While studying at UAPB, he appreciates the balance between field research opportunities and lessons learned in the classroom.
“The agricultural regulations curriculum gives UAPB students an edge in learning how to deal with current agricultural and environmental issues, as well as using research to make wiser decisions for the future,” he said. “The master’s program makes you think critically, opens the opportunity for growth through field work and provides access to professors who are very helpful to students and their particular goals. My area of interest has always been agriculture and the environment, and I believe this degree will give me a great advantage in furthering my studies in the area of agricultural and environmental sustainability.”
Ross said the agricultural regulations degree program is structured to give students a broad familiarity with a wide range of subjects including molecular biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, plant breeding, food safety and food microbiology. The versatile nature of the curriculum ensures students can be hired in a number of areas after graduation. To further prepare students for their future careers, the course hours and requirements are designed to emulate the expectations of a professional in the field.
“What is most interesting to me is the fact that our lecturers are not only interested in the academic growth of their students, but are also concerned with our preparation for the world of work, life and responsibilities.”
Gordon said she chose to pursue a master’s degree in agricultural regulations at UAPB to obtain a broad theoretical understanding and practical research experience in the area of food safety and related fields. She believes the degree will propel her toward her career goals of managing and increasing the awareness of agricultural food safety and quality assurance in Guyana.
In addition to the challenging nature of the degree program, Gordon said she appreciates the campus atmosphere at UAPB and some similarities to her home in Guyana.
“UAPB is the epitome of cultural diversity because there are people here from different countries and various walks of life, all of whom are genuinely courteous, jovial and welcoming,” she said. “I like that I get to be a part of an environment where people are eager to know about my country, culture and experiences back home, while willing to share their own history. As an international student, this has made my transition easier and my experience so far excellent and fulfilling. Life in Arkansas is fairly quiet, which in many ways reminds me of home.”