Ag Sciences student finds research, extracurricular opportunities abound

Jack Ouligian
June 21, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a high school junior, Alyssa Curry thought she wanted nothing to do with Penn State when her parents suggested that she consider the school for college.

“Even though I’m from Texas, both of my parents went to Penn State, and all of my family is from Pennsylvania,” she said. “I thought that I wanted to go somewhere else.”

That changed on Admitted Students Day, when Curry met Tammy Shannon, the academic adviser for the College of Agricultural Sciencesenvironmental resource management program.

Coming into college, Curry wanted to conduct research with honeybees, study abroad and gain a variety of experiences that would help her figure out what she wanted to pursue after graduation. Penn State, to her surprise, met and exceeded all those criteria.

“When I sat down with Tammy Shannon, she was prepared with a list of people’s names that I could contact, programs that I could get involved in, and classes that I could take at Penn State,” Curry said. “At that moment, I knew that Penn State was the place where I could accomplish everything that I wanted to do and so much more.”

Curry, now a rising junior majoring in environmental resource management, with minors in environmental engineering and entomology, has impressed Shannon.

“Alyssa has been an engaged and outstanding student,” Shannon said. “Her natural curiosity, motivation and upbeat character give her the ability to accomplish her goals, and it has been wonderful to watch her utilize the resources and opportunities that she’s discovered at the University. I’m really proud to have a student like Alyssa in the ERM program.”

Curry has taken advantage of the many opportunities available to her. In her first two years of college, she participated as a sustainability specialist on a THON hospitality committee and now serves as the vice president of the Penn State Beekeepers Club.

Curry also leads virtual expeditions through Penn State’s AURORA Outdoor Orientation Programs and works for its marketing team by performing presentations on Admitted Students Day tours. Last winter, she also held a job as a ski instructor at Tussey Mountain.

However, she has maintained an interest in and focus on the research opportunities that helped draw her to Penn State. In fall 2020, she joined the Grozinger Lab, which, as part of the Center for Pollinator Research, examines the mechanisms underlying social behavior and health in honey bees and related species.

In spring 2021, Christina Grozinger, Publius Vergilius Maro Professor of Entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, paired Curry with Gabriela Quinlan, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of entomology. With Quinlan, Curry researched the impact of brood manipulation on honeybee foraging behaviors.

“In summer 2020, Dr. Quinlan had manipulated broods in different bee colonies,” said Curry, who received a spring 2021 Undergraduate Research Award to support her research. “In the spring semester, I analyzed all of her pollen samples through a protein and lipid assay.”

This summer, Curry will continue to investigate the same subject with Quinlan. Thanks to an Erickson Discovery Grant, she also will look at how brood manipulation affects varroa mite levels in bee colonies. She hopes to continue her research on parasitic varroa mites into the fall semester.

“I enjoy the research process and having conversations with other researchers about these things,” said Curry. “These are skills that I will use throughout my life, regardless of my career path. But figuring out how brood manipulation affects varroa mites could change the way beekeepers run their hives and potentially help with infestations.”

Curry currently is planning to study abroad in spring 2022 in New Zealand, where she hopes to replicate the same varroa mite research that she will perform this summer. While U.S. beekeepers have seen the mites in their colonies since the mid-1980s, New Zealand has had them only since 2000.

“It’s a pretty cool research opportunity,” Curry said. “I’ll be interested to see if I get the same results there as we do here.”

Curry is pleased with how her first two years at Penn State have unfolded and is eagerly anticipating the future. “I’m super excited to be here,” she said. “I don’t think that I could have chosen a better program to enroll in, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish.”

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Last Updated June 21, 2021