Penn State Ag Sciences graduate students win University-wide awards

April 16, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- Three graduate students in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have been honored with University-wide awards this spring to recognize excellence in teaching, outreach or research.

Robert D. Cameron, doctoral candidate in horticulture, received the Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award. Matthew R. Ryan, doctoral candidate in ecology, was awarded the Intercollege Graduate Degree Programs Outreach Achievement Award, and Ezra G. Schwartzberg, doctoral candidate in entomology, netted the Alumni Association Dissertation Award in the life and health sciences category.

Cameron, who grew up on a farm outside Danville, Pa., received his undergraduate degree at Penn State and his master's degree in Texas. His award of $500 for outstanding teaching performance is jointly sponsored by the Graduate School and the Office of the Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education. Graduate students who have served as graduate teaching assistants for at least two semesters within the last two years are eligible.

Cameron's doctoral research involves using wastewater as a water resource, employing plants and locally available materials to treat all types of wastewater.

"It is simple, it mimics natural processes and it has many applications around the world," he said. "It's more efficient in time and space compared to other living treatment systems. The system enables the treated water to be reused in a home or business."

Cameron cited his involvement in two projects that he said helped students apply classroom knowledge to real world experiences. He worked on an annual Louisiana service project to assist storm-damaged schools with sustainable technologies and a project in Jamaica working with engineering students to develop a method for transforming chicken manure into energy.

"Passing knowledge on to the future generation is critical," he said. "Doing it in a manner that lights a spark in a student is an ongoing challenge."

Matthew Ryan, who hails from Honesdale, Pa., earned his undergraduate degree from Kutztown University and his master's degree in weed ecology from Penn State. His award recognizes graduate students in Intercollege Graduate Degree Programs who bring their scholarship to the community in order to benefit society in some manner. The award is designed to encourage future scholars and researchers to embrace outreach and promote a commitment to advancing the welfare and quality of life for the public through scholarly pursuits.

Ryan's research focuses on overcoming weed-management challenges in organic rotational no-till cropping systems. As part of the research, he calculates energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions of different corn-soybean-wheat cropping systems currently implemented in Pennsylvania. He also explores ways to manage weeds in ways that produce environmental benefits in organic farming.

Ryan said he was elated to receive the award.

"It’s always nice to be recognized for something that you're passionate about," he said. "I'm surrounded by great people. My adviser, Dave Mortensen, and the people in my lab group are always willing to give feedback and help out."

Ezra Schwartzberg, a native of Saranac Lake, N.Y., received his bachelor's degree in environmental science and forestry from the State University of New York and his master's degree in entomology from the University of Kentucky. His award recognizes outstanding full-time doctoral students who have passed their comprehensive exams and have received approval of the dissertation topic. The $5,000 award is considered to be among the most prestigious available to Penn State graduate students and honors outstanding achievement in scholarship and professional accomplishment.

Schwartzberg's research centers around the suppression of herbivore-induced plant defenses by aphids. He studies how aphids are able to suppress the chemical signals that plants release in response to insect feeding. These signals will attract pest insects' natural enemies, helping to protect the plant from damage.

"Aphids are able to counteract these chemical signals, in essence 'calming the plant,'" Schwartzberg said. "When aphids are feeding, plants don't respond to them. Even plants that would normally respond to caterpillars feeding do not respond as well to the caterpillars if the aphids are present.

"I feel very fortunate to receive such recognition," he said. "Above all, it makes me appreciate how supportive the entomology department has been in supporting my research."


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Last Updated April 19, 2010