Student Stories: Environmental major prefers work in field, labs

Your time at Penn State can be what you make it. Jenna Mitchell has spent a lot of her college time in the lab and doing field research -- and that's the way she likes it.

Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences can offer unique experiences that many students don't have access to until graduate school. "You can go to class, but research is what makes it really come alive," Mitchell said. "It keeps me inspired."

For her, research is also an insight into her future. "I'd like to get a master's degree, and I am in the process of figuring out what to get into, but I definitely want it to be related to environmental science."

A native of Lancaster, Pa., Mitchell was inspired to pursue environmental research when she saw firsthand the effects of climate change on puffin populations during her time as a volunteer on an Icelandic ecotourism farm.

"It's real, it's happening," she said. "I need to do what I can do in research and help make it known."

After meeting with an adviser in the Environmental Resource Management major, she knew she had found everything she wanted to do just that. "It's a great foundational program, and it helps me continue with environmental science."

Mitchell has worked in three research labs on campus. One lab was looking at insect and plant interactions to mitigate the need for pesticide use and develop better pest-management strategies. Another was studying the effects of climate change in soils, forestry and vegetation.

Last summer she traveled to Spain to continue this research. By controlling heat and rainfall on various research plots, scientists hoped to pinpoint how the vegetation changes under different variables and predict the potential effects of climate change on the environment.

The researchers with whom she worked are analyzing tree core samples and measuring roots they collected from arid areas to study ecological growth in a region where climate varies considerably.

"I feel really comfortable here and love the culture of the College of Agricultural Sciences," Mitchell said. "I have access to great research opportunities."

For students interested in similar opportunities, she suggests keeping your eyes open and making connections. "One of my experiences I found on a flyer in the Tyson Building," she said. "There are options everywhere."

(Get information about the Environmental Resource Management major.

Contacts: 
Last Updated January 23, 2014