When we talked with several science advocates in Ohio’s food and farm community, we found it was a similar belief that drove their enthusiasm to explore new ideas.
Husband and wife Dr. Larry Antosch and Dr. Karen Mancl have dedicated their lives to improving water quality. Mancl is a food, agricultural and biological engineering professor at Ohio State University working on waste water treatment. Something of a pioneer, she was the first woman hired in her department and the first woman full professor in agricultural engineering in the nation.
“Now we have six women in this department. I’ve watched the field change. It is still pretty much a man’s world but I’ve been able to really carve out a unique place in it,” she said.
In just one example, she helped a slaughterhouse in Cincinnati use a water treatment process developed at Ohio State, saving it millions of dollars. She also does work in China, focusing on rural waste water treatment.
“I really had to seek out different types of mentors to support my growing interests,” she said of her decision to pursue a career in science. “I started in the library reading a lot, checking out science books on my own and then doing exploration on my own.”
Antosch is Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director of policy development and environmental policy. He sits on several state, national and international task forces and working groups discussing farming and water quality.
“My research was always out in the field collecting information, collecting data and then making management decisions so we can make a difference in terms of creating a better place to live and healthier environment,” he said.
Antosch is currently helping to lead the organization’s support for farmers as they take action to improve water quality in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed and in Lake Erie.
He’s also lending his expertise as the organization looks at a broad-based initiatives to protect statewide water resources.
“It is the questions that keep me going.” ~ Karen Mancl
“As a kid and even now I say, ‘Let’s take it apart and figure out how it works.’” ~ Larry Antosch
The Buckeye, the bug guy
Dr. Bruce McPheron, dean of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, started down his career path as an entomologist at age 11 through a 4-H project.
He later went on to study the Mediterranean fruit fly, or Medfly, and how it impacted commercial apple production. He eventually explored the movement of the pests worldwide, learning about global quarantine issues and international trade in the process.
McPheron now oversees food, agriculture and environmental research and education at Ohio State. He found his way to that position after realizing that one of his greatest joys was seeing his students get a paper published or win a grant.
“I got to thinking ‘You know if I’m celebrating the success of others, maybe that is something I can really do a broader job of in administration,’ ” he said. “So I tried it and actually have loved it.”
One challenge McPheron sees is that many people seem to struggle with the perceived complication of science.
“I think that the biggest impact that we can have in higher education is we can actually work back down the educational chain to really energize those young people, help them understand that science is accessible, that science is important and science is fascinating,” he said.
McPheron is active on Twitter, posting about events he is attending and the work being done at Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. You can find him using the handle @medflygenes.
“What really was magical was when I could take some of my expertise and take the techniques that I and my students were learning and actually turn them into solving problems.” ~ Bruce McPheron
Food for Thought
For many people, “the unknown” is one of their greatest fears, but that is exactly what motivates Stephanie Neal in her science career. Although she did not grow up on a farm, Neal’s experiences in agriculture and science began in 4-H. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. at Ohio State in the comparative and veterinary medicine graduate program, focusing her research on viruses impacting livestock and the implications those findings could have for human medicine.
“I loved the concept of research…having a question, developing a testable, repeatable hypothesis, and then testing it and getting results and then communicating those results to the public. It was that whole process I just latched on to,” she said.
Neal is combating the challenges of communicating scientific information through a podcast, Agriculture Science Today, which she co-hosts with Minnesota dairy farmer Tim Zweber. The podcast takes peer reviewed research that pertains to agriculture and discusses it in a welcoming and entertaining way.
“A lot of the answers to the questions we have are very complex, so complex that it is hard to soundbite them or put them in the title of an article,” she said, noting people are being bombarded by often-inflammatory messages in the media.
“What I’m finding is that people are seemingly throwing away everything they have learned about biology or science from their education, whether that be college or high school, and are letting people who are trying to get their attention sway their critical thinking skills,” she said. “I think that is a problem and it is something I definitely want to help people with.”
Neal’s podcast with Zweber takes Ph. D. level ideas and gives the undergrad level background with a little editorializing on how they think it might be applied. Agriculture Science Today can be found at www.agscitoday.com or on Twitter @AgSciToday, and Neal and Zweber can be followed on Twitter at @science_cow and @zweberfarms.
“There is definitely a disconnect, and I think scientists need to do a better job at delivering messages that can be understood. But consumers need to do a better job at being critical thinkers and not allowing anything that comes their way to sway their belief.” ~ Stephanie Neal
Teachers often seek training and resources to nurture students’ natural talents in science. This is where Jeanne Gogolski and Carol Warkentien, owners of Education Projects & Partnerships, come in. They provide professional development opportunities to help teachers explore agricultural sciences.
Having been teachers themselves, they use their experience to create a network between teachers and the agricultural industry. Warkentien said this goes deeper than simply talking to children about crops and farm animals.
“To keep the momentum going, you move into the sciences where it becomes more lab-based or hands-on with agriculture, not just in high school agriculture education classes. It also needs to happen in the chemistry classes and the environmental science classes and all the classes that can see the theories they learn about applied to agriculture,” she said.
The two have seen students and teachers becoming more interested in the science behind topics that are in the news such as water quality or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“To take teachers out there and help them understand what’s going on in the field of agriculture—that is what we can really get excited about and that is what they get excited about too,” Gogolski said.
Gogolski and Warkentien’s project, GrowNextGen, with Ohio Soybean Council provides resources such as lessons, videos and labs and provides a network of teachers, students and agricultural industry professionals.
“While we are not scientists, we know a lot of great science teachers, and we have become enamoured and really interested with agricultural sciences in Ohio.” ~ Jeanne Gogolski
“We really are cheerleading for agriculture as well as helping teachers get excited about it.” ~ Carol Warkentien
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