Blooms and Shrooms Club reveals new world at Penn State

Jack Ouligian
October 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. — From the polypores forming on the trees to the white caps emerging from the ground, mushrooms and other fungi abound around Penn State.

The Blooms and Shrooms Club, in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, dedicated its last meeting to identifying species of fungi on tree trunks and fallen logs and in soil across campus. They successfully identified stinkhorns, false turkey-tail and oyster mushrooms, among many others, and stayed out until sunset.

Since its founding in 2016, the Blooms and Shrooms Club has organized a wide variety of fun, engaging activities designed to educate members and the public about the plants, plant diseases, mushrooms and fungi that populate the natural world.

According to President Clara Miller, besides foraging around campus, the club has hosted shiitake log workshops in the Mushroom Research Center at Penn State, educated local school children on insect-borne fungal pathogens at the college's Great Insect Fair, and, most recently, hosted an informational table for a State Theatre screening of “Fantastic Fungi,” a film exploring the fungal kingdom of life.

“A lot of our members have diverse interests,” said Miller, a senior majoring in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and minoring in plant pathology. “Some people are super interested in plant pathology and microbial genetics, and some are hobbyists. We try to tailor it so that there is something for everyone.”

In addition to its activities in engagement and education, the Blooms and Shrooms Club gives members the opportunity to develop professionally. In particular, the club provides a direct pipeline for students to join labs in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology.

“We have a 100% placement rate,” said plant sciences major Laine Hackenberg, the club’s treasurer. “If you want to work in a lab within the department, we can help.”

The club also hosts faculty and graduate guest speakers, visits labs, and connects members to other research and internship opportunities.

“The students have direct access to faculty, including the department head,” said club adviser Carolee Bull, professor and head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology. “That helps when it is time for letters of recommendation and advice on applications. The members of the club are honing the skills they will use in their future careers and will go on to achieve their dreams. They also have their own office.”

“It was the first time that I felt like, ‘Oh, this is an entire group of people that I really, really get.’”

— Helen Senerchia, environmental resource management major and Blooms and Shrooms club member

Cristina Rosa, assistant professor of plant virology and club co-adviser, who will take over for Bull as club adviser next semester, said she is “thrilled to be part of the club and to offer my future support.”

The club also provides new members, many of whom are new to campus, with a sense of community. Miller and Hackenberg both joined the club as transfer students, and Helen Senerchia, an adult learner and a transfer student, has found her niche at Penn State with Blooms and Shrooms.

Senerchia, an environmental resource management major, first encountered the club at the college's Ag Day event, where students are exposed to the diversity of agricultural opportunities, from crops to animals to forestry and wildlife.

“I knew that it was totally my jam,” said Senerchia, who spent her childhood foraging for mushrooms in her neighborhood.

With Blooms and Shrooms, Senerchia has participated in a mushroom-identification game, represented the club at the insect fair and attended the screening of “Fantastic Fungi.”

“It was really nice to meet a couple of grad students and a professor outside of my department,” she said. And, after meeting other club members, she knew that she had found a group of like-minded people. “It was the first time that I felt like, ‘Oh, this is an entire group of people that I really, really get.’”

Looking toward the club’s future, Miller and Hackenberg highlighted successful efforts to attract new members and interact with the greater Penn State community. The group’s new “What Plant Disease Are You?” quiz was a big hit at Ag Day, and its outreach at the “Fantastic Fungi” screening drew a great deal of attention.

Miller said that a collaboration with Penn State’s Bread Club is in the works, and Hackenberg proposed new activities — such as cupcake-decorating, clubwide research and scientific debates — that might interest prospective members.

“We want people to know that this club is a place for people to do nerdy, fun things,” said Hackenberg. “We have a good group of motivated officers who want it to continue, and I feel optimistic about its future.”

For more information about the club, visit https://sites.psu.edu/bloomsandshrooms/contact-us/, follow the club’s Facebook page, or contact the club’s secretary, Crosley Kudla-Williams, at cpk5207@psu.edu. Meetings are held at 5:45 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of every month in 208A Buckhout Building at University Park.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 29, 2019