Student Stories: Nutty for research, Horticulture major comfortable in lab

Grace Garbini helped plant more than 5,000 trees in the summer of 2012. As part of a Rutgers University research project on hazelnut breeding, she was tasked with transplanting and inoculating hazelnut saplings to test their resistance to fungal infections.

Because hazelnut trees can be both productive and highly resistant to disease, they offer researchers an opportunity to identify DNA linked to disease-resistant traits. The goal of the research is to breed highly productive trees that are disease resistant.

"Two of my Penn State professors had worked at Rutgers in the past," explained Garbini, a senior horticulture major with minors in biology, French and international agriculture. "They contacted their associates and helped me find an internship in a field I was interested in."

Garbini, who hails from Plainsboro, N.J., considered an internship in a turf-grass lab as well, but chose to research hazelnuts because she wanted to focus more on horticultural crops than grasses. Last year she worked in a lab studying cocoa, and she said that she hopes to study vanilla and sugarcane crops in the future.

What Garbini found most notable about her internship experience was how comfortable she felt in the lab.

"I know I'm qualified -- my courses at Penn State definitely have prepared me to work in a research setting," she said. "I'm already familiar with a lot of the procedures because I've done them all before in my classes. As an undergrad, I still have to prove myself, but now I know I have the chops."

Garbini believes her internship was important for evaluating career options. "Every new experience helps me decide exactly what I want to do later on," she said.

Garbini is on track to graduate this spring and plans to apply to graduate programs in plant science and international agricultural development, but said her path is by no means certain.

"My professors have advised me to go to graduate school because I'm so excited by the research aspect of my major, but every new class I take opens my mind to new possibilities. I'm not sure where I'll wind up."

Click on the link for information about the horticulture major. .

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Last Updated October 09, 2013