Who will develop and train the IPM practitioners needed by US agricultural producers and urbanites in the future? Colleges do a great job with the theoretical learning, but few opportunities exist for students to gain practical experience in the field working with professionals with integrated pest management (IPM) experience.
For 13 years, Texas AgriLife Extension Service has sponsored IPM Internship opportunities for students to work beside IPM Agents and gain hands-on experience. Students have learn essential IPM related skills such as pest/beneficial identification, establishment of research trials, field scouting, and data collection and interpretation.
Statewide IPM Coordinator Charles Allen said that students also have an opportunity to develop life skills such as working in teams, writing, speaking and organization of projects/ideas. Partners with Extension in providing the internships have been: local farmers, Texas Pest Management Association (TPMA), USDA NIFA (National Institute of Food and Agriculture), Cotton Incorporated, Texas Master Gardeners and numerous seed and agricultural chemical companies. Since 1998, there have been 90 student interns, he said.
During the program, students learned to identify pests (insects, diseases, weeds) and beneficial arthropods, scouted crops, worked on applied research projects, prepared educational materials and taught clientele, mentored younger field scouts, worked with youth in summer camps and other venues, demonstrated IPM principles, attended educational meetings and contributed to local IPM programs in many other ways. Interns are also required to report on their experiences on a monthly basis and at the end of the season.
In 2010, USDA NIFA provided Texas AgriLife Extension Service with a two year grant to partially support this program. Funds from participating IPM units were used along with the NIFA funds to conduct the program. Students were contacted though posters on departmental bulletin boards, advisor contacts and visits to campuses and classes.
For the 2011 season, recruitment visits to eight classes on six college campuses were made statewide. Eight students were enrolled in summer internship programs from a total of 21 applicants. Seven students worked with IPM Agents in agricultural programs and one student worked with the Urban IPM Program Specialist in San Antonio.
Texas A&M student Lauren Lewis enjoyed working with IPM Agent Molly Keck in the San Antonio area and is considering a Ph.D. in entomology with an emphasis in urban entomology. ”I learned a lot about teaching, field research, community work and school curriculum development,” Lewis said.
Nichole Boatman interned with Extension Program Specialist Bill Ree on pecan IPM in 2010. She said that her experience has helped her realize that she wants a future that involves working directly with growers. “It is extremely gratifying to know that you made a positive impact and that is a reward in itself,” Boatman said.
Reece Myatt learned about IPM and different jobs in agriculture and plans to attend graduate school and possibly a career within the AgriLife program,. “My IPM Internship was probably one of the most important things I have done to get my career on track,” Myatt said. “I learned how to help farmers make management decisions, conduct applied research and collect and compile data.”
Myatt also felt that the program has given him a head start on his classmates on his career path.
Allen said the program has been a positive and a very good way to help the students learn, as well as give agents a fresh way to look at various problems.
“The program allows the IPM Agents to work in the teaching role with the students. This builds both their skills and their character,” he said. “The program provides agents with extra hands, eyes and brains so that they can accomplish more during their hectic summer season.”
For more information about the internship program, visit http://ipm.tamu.edu/internships/