Agricultural science student pursues pollinator knowledge through internship

Kelly Jedrzejewski
December 13, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Xavier Mack, a student in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, spent his summer in the rolling hills of Nebraska. As part of his journey toward a future career in science communications, Mack, a sophomore majoring in agricultural science, participated in an internship program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

According to Mack, his internship project was based in conceptual entomology and science communications with a focus on pollinator knowledge.

“I conducted in-person interviews and online surveys to see what the public knew or didn’t know about basic pollinator knowledge,” he said. This included topics such as species that count as pollinators, the basic role of pollinators in the environment, and the symbiotic relationships they hold with certain plants.

Mack, from Mechanicsburg, originally applied for another internship but was turned down. A week later, he was contacted by staff at the science communications and entomology program asking if he would be interested in interning with them, as they believed his qualifications would make him a great fit for their program.

In Nebraska, Mack worked closely with Douglas Golick, professor of entomology, Jenny Dauer, professor of science literacy and a Penn State alumna, and doctoral student Citlally Jaminez.

To determine the extent of pollinator knowledge, Mack and the team developed a survey that was distributed on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus and online. They received about 20 responses to the in-person surveys and 280 useable online surveys.

Mack explained that the format of the survey was a series of true-false questions with a space to include a justification for the selected answer. If the participant left the survey incomplete or did not include a justification, the data was not used.

Mack also interacted with other students in the entomology department. Although all of the students were involved in their own projects, there was a common thread between them, Mack noted.

“We understand the importance of pollinators, but we want to raise more awareness about the decline of pollinator habitats,” he said, adding that he hopes the research will help to clear up misinformation that people have about pollinators.

Mack said that he had no prior background in entomology but now feels that he has a basic knowledge on certain common insects.

“A lot of my experiences at Penn State made me a strong candidate for this internship,” he said. “I was able to list not only my educational background, but also my work as a research assistant and my participation in the Pennsylvania School for Excellence in the Agricultural Sciences in 2017.”

Xavier Mack

Xavier Mack said his internship in Nebraska has given him the skills to continue his pursuit of a career in science communications.    

IMAGE: Xavier Mack

He presented his findings on the pollinator data collected over the summer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Summer Research Symposium, where about 200 student researchers presented their research and viewed the projects completed by their peers.

Mack added, “I didn’t win any awards, but that wasn’t my goal. Most of the other students were juniors, seniors or grad students. The experience, especially for someone as young as I am, was outstanding.”

The project temporarily wrapped up at the end of the summer, with plans to resume in January 2020. “My mentor, Dr. Golick, and I still have some demographics that we’d like to take a closer look at," said Mack. “We’re hoping to get our findings published over the next year or two.”

Mack said he believes the best part of the internship was the experience he gained in the field of science communications.

“Getting to interact with people one-on-one in the live interviews was a new experience for me, as was learning how best to present scientific information for a range of audiences,” he said.

Back at University Park, Mack works as a part-time research support assistant for Ephraim Govere, director of the Soil Research Cluster Laboratory at Penn State. Like his internship in Nebraska, this job is based heavily in research. Mack explained that he is responsible for putting together summary reports and analyzing articles based on various research topics.

Mack’s future career goals include working in the field of science communications, and he said this internship has created a strong foundation for his future endeavors.

“The internship gave me experience in collecting, analyzing and presenting scientific data,” he said. “I also think it’s opened the door to any other similar or more advanced internships I may pursue in the future.”

Mack advises other students not to wait until they are juniors or seniors to seek internship and research experiences.

“It doesn’t matter how old or young you are when it comes to pursuing internships, any experience at any time is valuable,” he said. “Even if you’re a freshman, you still have a shot.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 13, 2019