Page 1


STEMventures  n eight-day, immersive summer camp introduces A high school students to the world of earth sciences. DAVIS .W VU. E DU


Greetings, everyone. I hope this note finds you well. I have had the great privilege to serve as the Interim Dean for the Davis College since about the beginning of the year. It is especially fulfilling for me as my tenure home is in the Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences, where I was a regular faculty member before spending the last five years at the Honors College.

Best regards,

Ken Blemings, Interim Dean

CONTENTS Fall 2019

E. Gordon Gee President, West Virginia University Joyce McConnell Provost Sharon L. Martin Vice President for University Relations and Enrollment Management Kenneth P. Blemings Dean and Publisher Michael Esposito Executive Creative Director Angela Caudill Director, UR-Design Graham Curry Art Director, UR-Design Hayley Boso Magazine Designer







The Positive Implications of Climate Change?

Green is the New Black

Adventures in STEM

A WVU researcher believes the stateʼs future climates are likely to be more conducive to agricultural production.

A WVU graduate student sees a future for sustainable fashion.

Outdoor recreation and environmental science come together to create WVU's Appalachian GeoSTEM Camp.

Stacey Elza Haley Moore Jake Stump Katlin Swisher Lindsay Willey Contributing Writers Brian Persinger M.G. Ellis Photographers Kathy Deweese Director, University Content Mikenna Pierotti Senior Writer ADDRESS WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design Office of the Dean P.O. Box 6108 Morgantown, WV 26506-6108 CHANGE OF ADDRESS WVU Foundation P.O. Box 1650 Morgantown, WV 26504-1650 Fax: 304-284-4001 Email:

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 02 Around the College 08 Student Spotlight 18 Faculty Research 30 S  tudent Research 36 The Last Word with Andi Guo

Snapshot  Climb. Rappel. Repeat. High school students spent eight days exploring the great outdoors during the Appalachian GeoSTEM Camp.


It’s been wonderful to be back home and to see the College from a different vantage point. For the first time in my 20 years at WVU, I attended the State Fair of West Virginia. While there I interacted with different leaders on the state fair committee, my WVU Extension colleagues and, most importantly, 4-H youth exhibitors. Hopefully, these 4-Hers will be WVU students before too long. I continue to be amazed by the great work being done in the College — some of which is featured in this magazine. For instance, you’ll read about of the success of our Appalachian Geoscience GeoCamp, an immersive summer camp for students in grades 9 through 12. During the eight-day adventure, students explored concepts and skills related to earth sciences, including orienteering, topographic and geologic mapping, forest ecology and more. Making waves in the fashion design world is Damilola Fasinu, a design and merchandising graduate student who is embracing the idea of sustainable fashion. Earlier this year, she launched

her first clothing line, centered on sustainable ethics and inspired by African fashion. And, then there is the important climate change research being conducted by Jason Hubbart, director of the Institute of Water Security and Science. As he studied the changing patterns of West Virginia’s climate, he found our future climates will be more conducive to agricultural production. There is no doubt what we do in our College is important. In fact, our researchers are regularly called upon to share their expertise on a national (and international) level. Matt Kasson, assistant professor of forest pathology, has been featured twice in The New York Times, and Nicolas Zegre, associate professor of forest hydrology, was recently highlighted in a BBC article discussing climate change. As you can see, we are deeply committed to conducting highquality, relevant research, providing solid educational experiences for our students and serving the state of West Virginia. As I round out my time as interim dean, I look forward to advancing those missions. As always, we appreciate your interest and support.


LETTER from the Dean

FALL 2019


Around the College

Recognizing Excellence





Breaking Down Barriers Paul Kinder, director of the Natural Resource Analysis Center, and Lauri Andress, professor in the School of Public Health, are exploring barriers like food availability, access, use and stability that keep many West Virginians from eating healthy diets that can help protect against chronic disease. Their work will help develop a framework to determine which factors are controlling and resulting in food deserts.

True Colors

Down and Dirty A well-known name on the soil judging circuit, the WVU Soils Team once again competed in the National Collegiate Soils Contest. Out of 101 participants — the largest group of competitors in the history of the event — Jenna Floyd, an environmental, soil and water sciences major, captured second place in the individual judging portion. Overall, the team placed 11th in the contest.

Inspired by color, West Virginia University interior design alumna Kasey Helmick designed a center for individuals with cognitive disabilities; it could help them lead more fulfilling lives. Her project was recognized as a regional winner and finalist for the national conference in the Interior Design Educators Council Student Design Competition.

Record Enrollment

Welcome home, Class of 2023! This fall 375 first-time freshmen and 95 transfer students joined the Davis College family — making this our largest incoming class to-date.

Positive Impact In the two short years it's been open, the new Equine Education and Resource Center at the J.W. Ruby Research Farm is already positively impacting the local community. In fact, Crystal Smith, teaching associate professor of animal and nutritional sciences, estimates the total economic impact of the 11 horse shows hosted on the farm to be $1.6 million.

FAL L 2 0 1 9



through the Center for Service and Learning. Congratulations to Keith Inskeep, professor emeritus of reproductive physiology, on being named recipient of the 2019 American Society of Animal Science Retiree Service Award. The award recognizes individuals who have continued to serve the society even after retiring from their primary career position. Rachel Newman and Meredith Chapman were recently honored by the West Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for their contributions to the field of dietetics. Newman, a nutritional sciences graduate student, was named Outstanding Dietetic Intern and Chapman, a Davis College alumna, received the Outstanding Young Dietician Award.


A dedicated educator and mentor, Amy Welsh, associate professor of wildlife and fisheries resources, was presented the 2018-2019 James and Karen Caveney Alumni Association Faculty Excellence Award. Established in 2014, the award recognizes the contributions of a highly productive faculty member who demonstrates excellence in teaching and research as well as commitment to the people of West Virginia. Peter Schaeffer, professor of resource economics and management, was recently named a 2018-19 Benedum Distinguished Scholar. The award is presented annually to faculty engaged in research in behavioral and social sciences, biosciences and health sciences, humanities and the arts, and physical sciences and technology. This year, exceptional scholars were identified in all four categories. Jeff Skousen, professor of soil science and land reclamation specialist, was selected as a recipient of the Soil Science Applied Research Award by the Soil Science Society of America. The award is given to those who demonstrate outstanding achievement in applying research principles to solve practical problems in soil science. As someone who intentionally integrates community engagement into her teaching, creative work and service, Vaike Haas, assistant professor of landscape architecture, was presented the Faculty Award for Excellence in Community Engagement



THE POSITIVE IMPLICATIONS OF CLIMATE CHANGE? WVU researcher sees agricultural, food availability and economic possibilities.

FAL L 2 0 1 9





School of Agriculture and Food “Our future climates in West Virginia are likely to be more conducive to agricultural production. We should plan for that now.”

Depending on your side of the aisle, climate change either elicits doomsday anxiety or unabashed skepticism.

FAL L 2 0 1 9

which crops to grow in what locations.” Outcomes in his research also suggest the possibility of double-cropping, meaning that the growing seasons are extending long enough to raise one crop and harvest it and then raise another crop and harvest it, too, within the same year. “Doing that, obviously, increases economic revenue and provides local food supplies that could greatly improve access to fresh vegetables to our citizens,” Hubbart said. “That’s more than just a bit of good news.” Hubbart’s findings come from more — Jason Hubbart than 90 years’ worth of observed weather data from climate stations on the ground throughout West Virginia and Appalachia. Whereas some research relies on climate models utilizing information from more distant locations and predictions based on those models that often aren’t accurate, these findings are based on actual observed long-term West Virginia data, he said.  While other climate research predicts drier climates and the emergence of food deserts, Hubbart’s research indicates quite the opposite.  “West Virginia is a beautiful state with so much to look forward to,” he said. “Our great scientists are making incredible progress in agriculture, food deserts, agricultural economics, etc. We need to celebrate our current successes and how we can use those successes in what I view as a very bright agricultural future for our state.” “My results indicate that future climates will facilitate higher productivity and new crops, both of which could create an economic boom for West Virginia, reduce food desert issues and broadly improve the human condition in our state.”


Jason Hubbart, director of the Institute of Water Security and Science at West Virginia University, takes a more centered approach. He’s studied the undisputable changing patterns in West Virginia’s climate. And, believe it or not, there is at least one silver lining stemming from changing climate, he insists: The growing season is getting longer. “Our future climates in West Virginia are likely to be more conducive to agricultural production,” said Hubbart, a professor of hydrology and water quality in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. “We should plan for that now.” In research published in “Regional Environmental Change,” and the journals Water and Climate, Hubbart found, between

1900 and 2016, maximum temperatures in West Virginia trended downward, average minimum temperatures ascended and annual precipitation increased. Specifically, precipitation increased about an inch each of the last few decades. In other words, West Virginians are now, on average, seeing cooler summers, warmer winters and wetter weather. Corresponding with those trends, big changes have occurred in agriculture. Yield for hay and corn, which have historically been bread-and-butter resources for the state, have increased, yet 23 percent slower than the national average; however, other crops, including winter wheat and soybeans, have increased yields 15 percent faster than the national average.  Based on his findings, “It’s time to rethink farming in West Virginia,” said Hubbart, who grew up on a 2,000-acre dairy farm near Spokane, Washington. 

Hubbart breaks down why traditional West Virginia crops are floundering while others, previously not prominent, have gained potential. “Some areas of West Virginia are too drenched or flooded all the time,” he said. “Because it’s wetter, we’ve seen a decline in crops like hay and corn.” An uptick in humidity — a result of climate change in many regions — plays a part in the dwindling performance of traditional West Virginia crops. More humidity lowers vapor-pressure deficit, which is the difference between the amount of moisture in the air and how much moisture the air can hold (i.e., saturation).  When the air is saturated, water can condense out to form clouds, turn into precipitation and create dew or films of water over a plant’s leaves. More importantly, when the air is saturated (approaching 100 percent humidity), plants have a much more difficult time transpiring (moving water from the leaf to atmosphere). Therefore, the plants also have difficulty staying cool, transporting nutrients and photosynthesizing. For many historic agricultural crops, future climates may result in lower productivity. Corn and alfalfa, for instance, need a lot of water. Those plants use energy to create sugars and biomass. If it gets too hot, productivity can slow because they cannot move water up the plant and out the stomates, Hubbart explained. Ultimately, though West Virginia is seeing more precipitation, the increased humidity slows the movement of water from the plant to the atmosphere.  Yet that doesn’t mean death to West Virginia agriculture. Crops that don’t require as much water (through transpiration), or thrive in short winters, long summers or moderate temperatures, could help turn the state around, Hubbart believes.  The winter season has shrunk by as much as 20 days, according to Hubbart’s research, and the minimum (and winter) temperatures have become warmer. The growing season itself has increased by approximately 13 days.  “Winter wheat and soybean crops are just a couple of examples of future agricultural investment,” Hubbart said. “Those crops, and many broadleafs do well in short winters. Basil, specialty teas, specialty vegetables, those are plants that have had trouble growing here historically, but now, and in the future, they may fare better. “We can diversify our crops more. West Virginia should be thinking strategically about



Student Spotlight

Learning Journeys This summer, Davis College students traveled near and far for internships to enhance their skills, broaden their horizons and discover their purpose. WRITTEN BY HALEY MOORE

Despite what is shown in movies and on television, internships aren’t about learning how to make coffee or photocopy documents. They are incredible opportunities to network, gain experience and increase job prospects after graduation. For some students, internships are also an opportunity to travel abroad. Here’s how four Davis College students spent their summers:

While in Ghana, Leadmon worked at a health clinic. Stations are set up like a regular doctor’s office, and volunteers were assigned to assist different stations. Leadmon said the clinics open during regular business hours and generally run three to four days. All the patients who came were able to see a local Ghanaian medical doctor. As the liaison between WVU and the organization, she was also invited to attend a pilot brigade in Greece, where she was with student leaders from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. They were the first brigaders volunteering in one the largest mainland refugee camps in Greece.

“While in both Ghana and Greece, I stayed at a compound an hour away from the community we worked in. Although the locations were different, the issues were the same. All the people needed access to some type of medical or dental care. In Ghana, the clinics were walk-ins while in Greece, patients had to be screened, and only the most severe dental cases were treated.” Working with Global Brigades opened Leadmon’s eyes to the importance of equal access to healthcare — and to an unexpected career path. “Through traveling and shadowing abroad, I learned my passions didn’t quite align with being a doctor, and I’m more passionate about empowering people through equal access to basic necessities like food, water, medication and public health infrastructure.”

Caroline Leadmon Biochemistry Hurricane, West Virginia

Lauren Muncy

Wildlife and Fisheries Resources College Corner, Ohio

FAL L 2 0 1 9

A simple internet search led Lauren Muncy, a wildlife and fisheries resources major, to discover an internship opportunity with Cheetah Experience in South Africa. “I always wanted to go to Africa, but I thought I would never make it there until I applied for this internship and got accepted.”

“Cheetah Experience is a nonprofit conservation organization that has a cheetah breeding and release program. In addition, they have lions, tigers, servals, caracals, African wildcats and leopards. Most of those animals were rescues that now call Cheetah Experience their new home. They are ambassadors of their species and help educate the public about them and how they can protect their wild populations.” As an intern, she spent her days cleaning camps and water bowls as well as helping to feed the animals. DAVIS .W VU. E DU

When Caroline Leadmon came to WVU in 2016, she knew she wanted to be involved with a student organization that has a worldwide impact. She discovered the WVU’s Chapter of Global Medical and Dental Brigades. “I learned about Global Brigades my first semester on campus when the president at the time came to speak to my BIOL115 lecture. I was immediately attracted to the work, and I applied to attend the trip to rural Nicaragua that spring break.” The organization’s mission is to resolve global health and economic disparities through sustainable development and community partnership. This summer, Leadmon traveled to Ghana and Greece, marking her third and fourth trips abroad.



Student Spotlight Muncy said one of her more rewarding tasks was giving daily tours to visitors. “My favorite part of the internship was giving tours to groups of people and educating them about why the animals we had there are endangered and how they can help do their part protecting these animal species.” Muncy is a first-generation traveler. For both her and her parents this was the first time someone in their family was venturing abroad. “At first, we were all super nervous for me to leave the United States.” Muncy offers this advice for students: “If you want to go somewhere or do something specific, go for it. Do not stop short of your dreams.”

“I really felt as if I was creating a positive impact on the earth every single day of the internship. It helped me realize what is truly important to me and the steps I can take to accomplish my goals.” Her advice for students looking to obtain an internship is: “Apply. Apply. Apply. Try to create as many connections as you can because you never know who might send you a job opening for your dream job!”

Alex Hanna

Renick, West Virginia Agribusiness Management

Maleehah Akhtar

Environment and Energy Resources Management Martinsburg, West Virginia


“My favorite part of the internship was always having something fun on our agenda that I could use as a learning tool. We were always doing different things to help the environment like stream and culvert assessments, tree plantings and maintenance.” Learning about how minor changes impact the environment was one of her biggest takeaways. She wants to take steps to influence the environment in a positive way.

Hannah was tasked with finding the labor to help plant. His friends and family members gladly helped, but as they became unavailable, Benson was tasked with finding employees to help plant the hemp crop. Though parts of the summer proved challenging, Hanna was fortunate to learn about something new. “All of these new skills will help me greatly during the production and harvesting of my own crop this fall. Hemp is something that my family had no experience with until last year, so I have soaked up all the information that I can from this job.” DAVIS .W VU. E DU

FAL L 2 0 1 9

Aspiring environmental scientist Maleehah Akhtar spent her summer conducting tree inventories for the city of Martinsburg. As an intern, her projects varied each day by completing small goals that lead to the completion of the main project — documenting all the trees in the city to decide their condition. She helped design storm drains for neighborhoods affected by summer flooding and assisted in construction site inspections ensuring EPA regulations were in place.

Alex Hanna spent his summer growing hemp crops in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, for local farmer Tim Benson. With an increased demand for hemp, Benson shifted his growing ventures from Colorado to a land with rolling mountains. Hanna’s job required that he plant the hemp crop, so he purchased a four-row tobacco transplanter out of North Carolina and used it to plant the entire crop. “The four-row planter only takes one rider per row when the water wheel takes two people to plant one row. My transplanter allowed for much faster planting compared to the one row water wheel that Mr. Benson used the year before.” Benson left Hanna in charge of selecting the days he saw best fit to plant the crops. “I enjoyed having a leadership role in this operation. It makes me feel confident that I could conduct a successful operation like this again.”


‘GREEN’ IS THE NEW BLACK As a student and entrepreneur, a design and merchandising graduate student embraces the notion of sustainable fashion.



FAL L 2 0 1 9



School of Design and Community Devolopment

When it comes to sustainable fashion, Damilola Fasinu has her finger on the pulse of the industry, and she’s using her time at WVU to make a statement. The computer scientist turned fashion designer grew up designing her own clothes but was drawn to the problemsolving skills used in computer science. After graduating high school, the Lagos, Nigeria, native went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in information and communication technology, and a master’s degree in computer science. Three years ago, she moved to the United States and enrolled at West Virginia University to chase her dream of being an entrepreneur and fashion designer. “The Design and Merchandising program at WVU has state-of-the-art technology, research opportunities and professors that are not only top-notch in the fashion world, but also affiliated with professional industry organizations,” Fasinu said.

Embracing community and using available resources helped her accomplish several “firsts”:



FAL L 2 0 1 9

The launch of her first clothing line. Her first presentation at an industry annual conference. Pitching a business idea to professionals.

“I’ve always believed that sharing one’s ideas and goals with professionals and knowledgeable colleagues for critique is very essential as no one is an island of knowledge,” Fasinu said. “Mind-blowing ideas and goals can also be realistic when there is access to the right resources.” In early April 2019, as the sounds of traditional African music filtered backstage from the Mountainlair Ballrooms, Fasinu, a design and merchandising graduate student, eagerly awaited the most important night of her budding fashion design career — the launch of her first clothing line. Invited to showcase her designs as part of African Night, an event hosted by the WVU African Student Association, Fasinu couldn’t think of a more fitting venue. “Launching my brand at the African Night was a very good idea because it was an event that had a large population of my target consumers in a hall at the same time,” she said. “It was an avenue to get feedback from my target audience, inspiring more amazing ideas. I was thrilled and honored when I saw some staff and faculty members that I invited.” Gbajumo Fashion, The InFluencers, is a ready-to-wear, custom-made clothing line that features patterned, brightly colored dresses, jumpsuits, tops, pants and transformational pieces — all inspired by African fashion.


School of Design and Community Devolopment people was really insightful and educating because I got lots of feedback that was and will be incorporated into my research and forthcoming designs of mine.” And the fashion eco-warrior didn’t stop there. In an effort to create awareness for sustainable fashion — and gain valuable experience pitching business ideas — Fasinu participated in the I (HEART) IDEA Hub Pitch Challenge. Hosted by the WVU LaunchLab and the WVU IDEA Hub, the event provided students, faculty and community members with the opportunity to pitch their business ideas in a head-tohead competition. Thirteen teams pitched ideas, with prize money awarded to first, second and third place. Fasinu partnered with Chaqieta Robinson, a May 2019 graduate who majored in fashion, to pitch “Sustainable Fashion,” a business devoted to creating stylish clothing while reducing fabric waste.

FAL L 2 0 1 9


Inspired by clothing worn by the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, West Africa, the garment featured Adinkra symbols that convey traditional wisdom, summarize reminiscent messages and serve as a decorative purpose. “The Adinkra symbols utilized in the textile design are traditionally indigo-dyed, a process known to pollute clean water supplies,” she explained. “However, digital textile printing technology offers an alternative to indigo-dying that reduces fabric and dye waste.” Taking sustainable design one step further, the dress was created out of organic cotton fibers and is considered a transformable design. “Mother’s Desire can be worn as a long strapless dress or as a bulb-shaped dress,” Fasinu said. “This design maximizes the garmentʼs adaptability, increases its longevity and delays disposal.” Her adviser, Colleen Moretz, assistant professor of design and merchandising, encouraged her to submit the design to be considered for presentation at the International Textile and Apparel Association’s Annual Conference. “I never knew how hard it is for one’s paper and design to be accepted in to ITAA publication for presentation until I attended the conference and had conversations with colleagues and professionals,” she said. “Presenting my ideas to


The word “Gbajumo” means “influencer” or “a popular person” in Yoruba, a major and widely spoken language in Nigeria. “I wanted to create a brand centered on sustainable ethics, a strong sense of expressive identity, value and culture,” she said. “By applying a multiculturalism concept to African fashion through sustainable design techniques and technology, The InFluencers accomplishes that.” With the fashion industry being the second-largest pollutant in the world — second only to oil — leading a brand focused on sustainability is extremely important to Fasinu. “Sustainable fashion is important to me because it has the capacity to inspire consumers’ feelings of fulfilment by making more conscious choices and their consumption of sustainable fashion products,” she said. “This will be achieved by manufacturing garments in high quality and timeless design, in an environmentally friendly manner and with consideration to various ethical aspects.” Her interest in sustainable fashion can also be seen in her academic projects. Fasinu created Mother’s Desire, a dress design that explored three sustainable fashion practices — digital textile printing, organic cotton fibers and transformable design — as a research project.

“Consumers are now aware of the environmental and social issues associated with the production and consumption of fashion products, hence, doing all they can to contribute to this sustainable fashion movement,” she said. Although “Sustainable Fashion” didn’t receive a monetary award, Fasinu found the process extremely valuable. “Pitching my business idea widened my business idea horizon,” she said. “The critique was amazing, and I got feedback that actually helped in planning my business model.” At the end of the day, college is what you make of it. And, Fasinu feels fulfilled as a WVU student. “Harnessing opportunities and access to resources made the journey less stressful. I’m grateful for the opportunities WVU provided me,” she said. “I can’t wait to impart the knowledge I gained from this institution to students, professionals and anyone willing to learn.”


Gender Bias

WVU researcher finds sexism ‘pervasive in agriculture faculty.’ WRITTEN BY HALEY MOORE

A West Virginia University researcher discovered that sexism is still pervasive among agriculture faculty in spite of gains made in the last 15 years.


Finding Value in Forest Harvesting Waste

WVU-led research project to advance forest biomass harvest and logistics. WRITTEN BY LINDSAY WILLEY

Each year, more than 10 million dry tons of forest logging residue is produced in the eastern United States.

According to a West Virginia University researcher, those residues are sustainable and can be used for biofuels, bioenergy, green electricity and value-added bioproducts that could spur rural economic development. However, significant challenges exist when it comes to harvest and collection. To address those challenges, Jingxin Wang, professor of wood science and technology in the Davis College, will lead a team of researchers in developing and optimizing forest logging residue harvest and collection logistics in the eastern United States. The $1 million project is funded through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants program administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Wang will collaborate with researchers from Auburn University, Virginia Tech and the University of Maine. Wood residue includes the waste left over from forest operations and management and includes tree tops, limbs and small diameter stems, which are generally left unused as wasted byproduct of traditional timber harvesting.

“The eastern U.S. has a wealth of forest resources and the potential to increase the forest logging residue supply for value-added bioenergy and bioproducts for both the near-term and long-term bioeconomic development,” Wang said. Rural economies can benefit from both employment opportunities and economic investment along the forest residue supply chain, including harvesting and collection crews, preprocessing, and bio-refinery conversion facilities.” However, Wang indicated harvest, collection and logistics of logging residue remain a challenge of the overall economics of biomass supply chains. “Development of renewable biofuels and bioproducts, as a result, has been slow due to the lack of regional data and models on detailed and robust forest logging residue production and supply chain analysis, techno-economic analysis and life cycle analysis,” he said. Those overarching challenges are compounded by regional differences in forest stand types, species composition, terrains and timber harvesting systems. To create a comprehensive analysis, the researchers classified the eastern U.S. into four sub-regions: Northeast, Upper Mid-Atlantic, Lower Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. The project will identify and improve methods to integrate forest residue collection into timber harvesting practices, ultimately improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness of residue collection with consideration of regional differences in species, terrain and harvesting systems. “The field study of real cases will provide supportive evidence and strategic guidance to encourage the development of local businesses for forest logging residue utilization,” Wang said. “Ultimately, we want to create a supply chain capable of utilizing locally sourced feedstocks for renewable energy and products that will provide opportunities for rural economic development and growth.”


FAL L 2 0 1 9

Haley Rosson, assistant professor of agricultural and extension education in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, said behaviors include toxic work environments, unhealthy competition, inappropriate interactions and policy violations. Rosson was part of a team that won an award for its paper “Women Faculty in Postsecondary Agricultural and Extension Education: A Fifteen Year Update.” The team was recognized for their outstanding paper/presentation at the Southern Region American Association of Agricultural Education Conference held in Birmingham, Alabama. HALEY ROSSON The paper provided an update to a study conducted in 2003 and was the result of a nationwide survey sent to female faculty at land-grant institutions and universities with an agricultural education or extension program. The survey included five questions that helped researchers gain perspective into the population’s educational and professional background, current and professional status, mentoring, professional treatment and demographics. Focusing on the positive portion of study results, women reported having excellent mentoring opportunities regardless of the mentor’s gender. The collaborative environment

was mentioned as being a positive experience for the respondents as well as enjoying a culture of women building other women up and working together in the agriculture industry. “Unfortunately, there were also really nasty, kind of shocking comments that we really hoped we weren’t going to see,” Rosson said. “One faculty member said she’d been called beautiful more times than she had been called smart.” Personal experience with sexism is one of the many facets that led Rosson to research female faculty in agriculture. Having worked as a county extension agent in Oklahoma, Rosson would often field telephone calls from people looking for the “ag guy.” “Although I was the person they were looking for, callers would repeatedly request to speak with a man,” she said. “That was the first time that I directly dealt with that. Being in those kind of genderspecific roles, I was continually trying to shatter those stereotypes and thinking yes, a woman can be in an ag position and know just as much as her male counterparts.” Rosson said it’s important to create a culture of inclusivity, collaboration and positivity for agriculture faculty members regardless of gender. “If we are just willing to have those conversations and be on the same playing field, I really think that is what we can achieve,” she said.


Faculty Research


Faculty Research

Digging In

WVU researchers seek to find ways to reclaim marginal lands and economies. WRITTEN BY PAM PRITT

Out of the 10 million acres of land damaged by extractive industries in Appalachia, about 500,000 lie in the borders of West Virginia. Rather than discarding the region’s history, West Virginia University researcher Zachary Freedman sees the future of that land remaining in the energy sector.

FAL L 2 0 1 9


Microbe cycles keep us safe.

For being so small, they have a huge impact on the Earth.

Microbes have their own communities.

Microbes impact all human life. They are at the beginning and end of many lifecycles. Although we can’t see them, microbes are what keep us going.

Just like in the macro world, there are communities of microbes. However, studying them isn’t so easy. There’s clear, observable competition among macroorganisms — like the rabbit and wolf populations — but whether those competitive community dynamics exist among the microbial population is still an open question for scientists.

They determine where nutrients will be found across the Earth. By studying how microbes interact with their environments, scientists can more accurately predict where nutrients can be found. This is vital information when it comes to further understanding agriculture and other plant life across the globe.

Speaking of nutrients, microbes explain the historic story of carbon … and maybe the future. My colleague Ember Morrissey, assistant professor of environmental microbiology, recently discovered that nature — or evolutionary history — has an impact on microbial roles in soil carbon storage. Why is that important? Predicting where carbon will be stored in the soil is vital to understanding the future of Earth’s climate.

Microbes helped oxygenate the Earth. Most students gained a broad overview of microbiology in high school, but understanding how microbes played a role in the beginning of life on Earth is at the core of the human experience. In the earliest days of Earth, there was no oxygen. The microbe named cyanobacteria helped oxygenate the air we breathe today.

Microbes cycle mercury just like carbon and nitrogen, but some types of mercury — like methyl-mercury — is a neurotoxin to humans. Certain microbes perform processes to reduce it to a volatile form, mercury zero.

New research demonstrates certain microbes can possibly help with land reclamation. Some microbes thrive on decaying organic matter, releasing eight times the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as humans do by burning fossil fuels. To counter those activities, there are microbes that soak up as much carbon as they can. In land reclamation, the goal is to create a carbon negative agroecosystem that will soak up more carbon than it releases. If we reclaim enough land across the world we’re one step closer to mitigating climate change.

There is plenty of room for new discoveries. Because microbes are so small, itʼs difficult to study them. Of all the different fields, microbiology is the most understudied. As scientists learn better methods to study these tiny life forms, humans can learn more about an entire world they can’t see.


But instead of removing something from the earth, he’ll put something back. Freedman, an assistant professor of environmental microbiology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, said Miscanthus X giganteus, a biomass plant with an especially deep and substantial root structure, can regenerate the damaged acreage, soaking up carbon from the atmosphere and returning it to the soil. “The ideal outcome of this is to generate a ‘carbon negative agroecosystem,’” Freedman said. “Miscanthus has a high potential to save and/or improve marginal lands.” Reclaimed land is poor in carbon, particularly organic carbon from things that were once alive, like plant roots. Like runners in a relay race, a soil microbe works hard, building up a “sweat” before finishing its leg and handing off the baton to the next runner, or microbe, Freedman said. The birth and death cycle helps soil stick together and promotes more organic matter. And the tall and hearty grassy plant has more potential than soil replenishment. It can also be an economic

development tool in cash-strapped areas affected by coal mining’s decline. PhD student Jennifer Kane, a Raleigh County native, said she aims to make sustainable use of marginal lands. “Land that has been affected by mining could be used to grow biofuel crops such as Miscanthus,” Kane said. “It’s promising because it has high biomass production with the potential for stimulating rural economies all over the state where the economy was once heavily coal-based.” Miscanthus can be used to generate sustainable energy in several ways, Kane added. It can be turned into pellets and burned and the sugars in the biomass can be used as a fermentation substrate for microbes, resulting in ethanol, which can be used as fuel, she explained. Freedman and Kane, in collaboration with Davis College faculty Ember Morrissey, Louis McDonald and Jeffrey Skousen, are planting 1,600 Miscanthus rhizomes at WVU’s Animal Science Farm and Agronomy Farm, establishing a set of plots on both higher- and lower-quality land, including a plat with a legacy of surface mining. Miscanthus is a sterile hybrid perennial, meaning it will reestablish itself every year, but won’t spread as non-native invasive plants do. Freedman said he likes the idea of honoring the land’s “story” by continuing to use it for energy purposes. That’s been attractive to land managers who are tasked with both reclaiming the land and finding a post-mining use that is good for the land and could provide economic returns and opportunity. It’s not the only plant-based economic development tool being discussed. Others — like hemp — are being touted as land and business rescues. Unlike hemp, Miscanthus is more a “set it and forget it” plant, Freedman said, since hemp has a fairly high need for nitrogen, which requires more management of soils.

Zac Freedman explains why humans should care about microbes — the tiny living things that, under most circumstances, can’t be seen with the naked eye.


Faculty Research

Flying Salt Shakers of Death

The lives of fungal-infected zombie cicadas explained by WVU researchers. WRITTEN BY JAKE STUMP

If cicadas made horror movies, they’d probably study the actions of their counterparts plagued by a certain psychedelic fungus.


Researchers Tackle Food Safety Issues for Local Farmers West Virginia leads the nation in the number of small farmers, and a team of researchers at West Virginia University hopes to help them increase the safety of the local foods. WRITTEN BY HALEY MOORE

The WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center are partnering to develop a three-step wash process to help mitigate food safety risks associated with locally grown fresh produce in the state.

Oftentimes, produce purchased from farmers’ markets is perceived as being safer than products bought from conventional stores. However, Cangliang Shen, lead researcher on the project and assistant JONES professor of human nutrition and foods, notes that under Food and Drug Administration exemptions, certain small growers are not required to conduct sample tests for pathogens on their products. Farmers who qualify for these exemptions must meet certain criteria, including three-year average sales of less than $500,000, intrastate distribution not exceeding a 275-mile radius, and direct distribution to consumers, restaurants or retail food stores. “Although the FDA allots exemptions to certain small growers, that doesn’t mean they are exempt from providing safe food to their communities,” he said.  Prior research conducted by the team found higher percentages of Salmonella and Listeria spp., bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses, on fresh produce sold at West Virginia farmers markets as compared to existing published data. Lisa Jones, program coordinator for the Small Farm Center, stressed that the percentages weren’t high enough to cause an outbreak; however, there is always room for improvement with respect to food safety. “Our mission is two-fold,” Jones said. “Help small growers provide safe produce to consumers and protect their businesses.” To test the three-step wash process, the team is partnering with Preston County Workshop, Inc., a non-profit, integrated rehabilitation facility featuring a farm and greenhouse, to implement the system and evaluate its viability for small farmers. 



“The Workshop can wash, grade and pack locally grown food from area farmers,” Shen said. “This ability has elevated the facility into a nutrient for growth, development and maintenance of the region’s agriculture. This project will supply the organization with scientific information regarding the efficacy of the three-step wash to inactivate foodborne pathogens during their processing line.” Shen went on to say partnering with a local organization will allow the team to conduct an economic analysis to assess changes in consumer and farmer behaviors with respect to agricultural food safety.  And, that’s where Xiaoli Etienne, associate professor of resource economics and management, steps into the picture. To successfully adopt the three-step wash process, it must be a worthwhile investment for farmers and consumers.  “With the entire process in place, we must also evaluate whether consumers are willing to pay more for safer produce. After all, farmers need to pay for the equipment and labor used in this new cleaning method,” she explained. “In particular, we will study how much extra consumers are willing to pay for safer produce, and whether this increased price can cover the extra cost incurred to farmers.”


FAL L 2 0 1 9

West Virginia University researchers have discovered that a cicada fungus called Massopora contains chemicals similar to those found in hallucinogenic mushrooms. The fungus causes cicadas to lose their limbs and eccentric behavior sets in: Males try to mate with everything they encounter, although the fungus has consumed their genitals and butts.

Despite the horrid physical state of infected cicadas, they continue to roam around freely as if nothing’s wrong, dousing other cicadas with a dose of their disease. You’ve heard of “The Walking Dead.” This is “The Flying Dead.” “They are only zombies in the sense that the fungus is in control of their bodies,” said Matt Kasson, assistant professor of forest pathology and one of the study’s authors. Cicadas first encounter the fungus underground where they spend 13 to 17 years before emerging to the surface as adults, Kasson said. Within seven to 10 days above ground, the abdomen begins to slough off revealing the fungal infection at the end of the cicada, he continued. It’s quite the coming out party. “Infected adults maintain or accelerate normal host activity during sporulation, enabling rapid and widespread dispersal prior to host death,” Kasson said. “They also engage in hypersexual behaviors.” Joining Kasson on this research published in Fungal Ecology are his Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design colleagues Greg Boyce, Kasson’s former PhD student in the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences; and Daniel Panaccione, professor of plant and soil sciences. The impetus of the study came in 2016 when billions of cicadas ascended upon the northeast United States. Two of Kasson’s students loved cicadas. One, Matt Berger, convinced the professor to study the fungus. Another student, Angie Macias, coined a creative, heavy metal sounding name for the cicadas: “flying salt shakers of death.” Initially, the research team tried infecting the cicadas in a lab but that method did not work. But they managed to examine enough infected cicadas from the wild to make the new discovery. For those of you wondering if you can get “high” from the psychedelic chemicals in a Massospora-infected cicada, Kasson’s answer is “maybe, if you’re motivated enough.” “Here is the thing,” he said. “These psychoactive compounds were just two of less than 1,000 compounds found in these cicadas. Yes, they are notable but there are other compounds that might be harmful to humans. I wouldn’t take that risk.” Kasson and his team are buzzing along on additional cicada research. They recently collected cicadas from this year’s emergence in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They plan to resequence the genome of the fungus and analyze the gene expression in both healthy and infected cicadas to better understand the genetic aspects of the discovery. And beyond the discovery being downright creepy and fascinating, it may lead to someday benefiting the greater society instead of serving as nightmare fuel. “We anticipate these discoveries will foster a renewed interest in early diverging fungi and their pharmacologically important secondary metabolites, which may serve as the next frontier for novel drug discovery.”


WVU’s Appalachian GeoSTEM camp blends outdoor recreation with environmental science education. WRITTEN BY HALEY MOORE

From caving to ziplining, this summer 18 high school students received the opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering and math through outdoor recreation and adventure-packed activities.

FAL L 2 0 1 9

With an increasing need to expose students to STEM education, West Virginia University, the United States Geological Survey and the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey came together to provide a solution. Now in its second year, the GeoSTEM Camp is an eightday, seven-night program that enables students to explore concepts and skills related to earth sciences through hands-on experiences alongside experts in the field. Going far beyond indoor lessons and lectures, the camp introduced students to orienteering, topographic and geologic mapping, forest ecology and more.

“The premise is that these kids will become hooked on STEM if they are exposed to the curriculum while participating in recreational activities,” said Robert Burns, director of the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources in the WVU Davis College. “I hope the kids gain a greater interest in STEM education because they are introduced to it while outdoors and participating in adventure recreation. Ultimately, it can show them that learning about STEM can actually be fun.” Burns, who is also a professor of recreation, parks and tourism resources, worked with Lauren Janowicz, the camp’s director and a graduate student in the division, to conceptualize and develop a unique, exciting experience for students. One of the main goals of the camp was to foster selfefficacy in the students. Camp coordinators aspired to provide students with self-confidence for future adventures.



School of Natural Resources

FAL L 2 0 1 9


With help from Adventure WV and field experts, the pair created a memorable experience for the students. They went on a variety of adventures through the Appalachian wilderness during their weeklong stay. Campers traveled to Seneca Rocks and Blackwater Falls, and Bunse hopes they can add more of those day trips to next year’s itinerary. “We would love it if they could spend a little bit of more time exploring the state,” she said. “It’s important to mix up their experiences like tent camping or staying in a cabin.” An added activity to the 2019 schedule was geocaching, a game of hide and seek that uses Global Positioning Systems


“This is a multifaceted camp in terms of our goals,” Janowicz said. “I personally want them to go home feeling more confident in making friends and learning about new topics and hobbies. Social enrichment is really important to me.” She isn’t the only one invested in the camp’s success. Emily Bunse, map standards coordinator with the Illinois State Geological Survey, returned to the camp as a program manager. In the inaugural year of the camp, Bunse worked as a graduate student. “This is a very special case for me,” she said. “USGS essentially bought some of my time from the Illinois State Geological Survey so that I could work on this camp with Lauren.”


FAL L 2 0 1 9



and other navigational techniques to find containers — or geocaches — at specific locations marked by coordinates. “Because it was something that we didn’t do last year, I was a little nervous about how they would respond to it,” said Bunse. “It actually went super well. I loved seeing them learn how to navigate with a paper map.” Each camper walked away from the camp having acquired new knowledge about themselves and the world around them. Micha Foster, a junior at Capital High School in Charleston, West Virginia, said the camp inspired him to connect more with nature and the outdoors. “I definitely want to be outside more and get a GoPro,” he said. “In my scholarship essay I actually wrote about how much more of the state I wanted to see. This camp really affirms it, and it’s just been an amazing week.” Hannah Benjamin, a home-schooled student from Upshur County, enjoyed learning about how different ecosystems affect streams. “Learning how to protect streams was probably my biggest learning experience this week,” she said. “We learned about the number of insects that need to be in a pond and how some are more tolerant to toxins than others.” For Jaake Hoppe, a sophomore at Oakton High School in northern Virginia, the camp allowed him to explore future career options. “My mom wanted me to do some type of summer camp that I would enjoy. We were looking at camps together online that were near us and we discovered this one,” he said. “I want to have a career in environmental science, and so we agreed that this geoscience camp would be a good fit for me.” After a week filled with outdoor adventure, the campers and instructors paused for an evening of owl listening — an activity initially frowned upon by the campers. “We were going to sit on the porch and listen for owls and the students were kind of just like ‘ugh I want to go to bed,’” Janowitz said. “But when that first owl hooted, every single one of their faces lit up, and I loved getting to see that.” At the end of the week, students and camp leaders reminisced over their new friendships and the exciting things they learned. For both campers and instructors, it was an enjoyable way to incorporate environmental education with outdoor recreation. “I loved being able to just interact with all of them and get to see them grow and evolve in such short period of time,” said Janowicz. Although the camp is still growing and evolving, Burns hopes to expand it beyond the current age group. He plans to work with the existing partnerships to host a similar camp for veterans. “Our hope is to develop a new camp that will focus on veterans who are ending their time in the U.S. military and are coming to WVU,” he said. “Our goal with this group would be to reduce the stress of the incoming students and create a safe ‘landing spot’ for veterans who have experienced combat.”


Student Research

On Capitol Hill WVU students present research to members of Congress. WRITTEN BY LINDSAY WILLEY


Two West Virginia University students’ novel research on ergot alkaloids — toxic compounds produced by fungi — and their importance to the fields of agriculture and medicine took them to Capitol Hill to present their findings to members of Congress.

FAL L 2 0 1 9



Caroline Leadmon, from Hurricane, and Jessi Tyo, a Gassaway, West Virginia, native, were among 60 students selected nationally by the Council on Undergraduate Research to participate in Posters on the Hill. The highly competitive event features the most talented researchers from colleges and universities around the country

and provides them with the opportunity to demonstrate the value of undergraduate research. For the last two years, Leadmon and Tyo have been conducting research together under the guidance of Daniel Panaccione, professor of mycology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. “High-achieving students have so much expected of them and so many demands on their time,” Panaccione said. “In addition to their academic and extracurricular responsibilities, they have made extra investments in their research and I’m happy they are being recognized for their accomplishments.”

characterize a new gene from M. brunneum that is the last step in making the ergot alkaloids in the species. She is the first person to successfully apply the technique to this fungus. “This genetic modification results in the accumulation of a pharmaceutically important compound,” she explained. “It also sets the stage for more fungal genes to be analyzed. We can genetically engineer this fungus to mass produce certain chemicals that have medical applications and that otherwise are difficult to produce.” Working together, the pair aim to better understand the biochemical pathway in which these compounds are made and, hopefully, contribute to the advancement of agricultural and GUIDED BY DANIEL PANACCIONE, PROFESSOR OF MYCOLOGY, JESSI TYO AND CAROLINE pharmaceutical practices. LEADMON HAVE BEEN RESEARCHING THE IMPORTANCE OF ERGOT ALKALOIDS — TOXIC Participating in Posters on COMPOUNDS PRODUCED BY FUNGI — TO THE FIELDS OF AGRICULTURE AND MEDICINE. the Hill was not only a means to share their research, but also As part of the WVU Summer Undergraduate Research showcase the important work happening at WVU. Experience, Leadmon and Tyo studied ergot alkaloids in the “I am excited to represent West Virginia and West fungus Metarhizium brunneum. Virginia University on a national level. As an R1 institution, “Ergot alkaloids impact humankind as potent pharmaceuticals WVU performs some of the best work in the world. It is and as agricultural contaminants,” Leadmon, a dual major in an honor to be able to contribute to this body of work, animal and nutritional sciences and biochemistry, explained. especially as an undergraduate student,” Leadmon said. “They can serve as the lead compounds in medications to WVU was first rated as an R1 institution, or very high treat dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and research activity, institution in 2015 by the Carnegie migraines. They also play a large part in agriculture because Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. As of the their presence can be harmful to grazing animals; however, organization’s 2018 assessment, the University continues to they can protect grasses from insects.” rank among the nation’s elite research institutions. For her project, Leadmon first demonstrated that For Tyo, this was an opportunity to advocate for the Metarhizium species produces ergot alkaloids when undergraduate research. it infects insects but not plants, a discovery that leads “Research has played an enormous role in my researchers to believe the species can be used as natural undergraduate career,” she said. “Coming into college I had pesticides in crop production. no idea what research entailed and all of the important With respect to M. brunneum, she discovered it is the only impacts it has. It allowed me to learn that I love the fungus of the species to produce ergot alkaloids when cultured diagnostic side to research, an important discovery that in a petri dish or flask — a property that could be important for shaped my goal of going to optometry school. I believe it pharmaceutical production. can help others realize their true potential — even if it is “The discovery that M. brunneum produces ergot alkaloids that they don’t like research.” presents the opportunity to extract and study these key This was the fourth consecutive year WVU students chemical compounds for industrial or scientific purposes,” have been selected to participate in the event. Leadmon said. Tyo, a biology major in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, used a gene knockout technique to clone and


Student Research

Fighting Hunger on Campus

Eat Your Veggies

A WVU graduate student who researches college food insecurity was selected for a competitive fellowship.

As West Virginia University works toward becoming the world’s first Blue Zones Certified university, a Davis College alumna and graduate-student researcher in the WVU School of Public Health is exploring how one of the Blue Zone Project’s tenets — eating an abundance of vegetables — can make individuals with diabetes, and those at-risk of developing the condition, healthier.


A West Virginia University graduate student has been selected for a fellowship with the American Society for Nutrition.

FAL L 2 0 1 9



Rachel Wattick, a master’s student specializing in social and behavioral sciences, investigated the association between a range of vegetarian diets and diabetes outcomes. She and her mentor Melissa Olfert, an associate professor of human nutrition and foods, found that whole plant foods play a crucial role in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. Their work is part of WVU’s Lifestyle Intervention Research Lab, which Olfert leads. The Blue Zones Project — an initiative designed to help community members live longer, healthier lives and alleviate their chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes — echoes Wattick’s and Olfert’s findings. The project encourages people to make most, if not all, of their food plant-based. Adopting a vegetarian diet is one way to clear that high bar. The researchers performed a literature review of studies that focused on both diabetes and plant-based diets. Most of the studies were published in peer-reviewed journals within the past five years, but somewhat older studies were also included “if they were extremely relevant or if they touched on things that more current studies didn’t,” explained Wattick.  Across the spectrum of vegetarian diets that the studies probed — from veganism, which excludes eggs, cheese and other animal products, to semi-vegetarianism, which allows occasional meat eating — a correlation held constant: the more a diet relied on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and other plant-based foods low in saturated fat, the more it lowered someone’s risk of developing diabetes.  Among people who already had diabetes, plant-based diets were associated with healthier blood-sugar levels, lower body weight and reduced dependence on insulin and other diabetes medications. 

In one study the researchers considered, 39 percent of participants who treated their diabetes with medication or insulin could stop taking the pills or giving themselves injections after they adopted a near-vegetarian diet. Given the rising cost of insulin, using plant-based foods to shrink insulin doses or eliminate them entirely may be especially beneficial in West Virginia. The state has the highest incidence of diabetes in the nation but one of the lowest average household incomes.  Even if someone can’t afford to replace meat with healthy, plant-based foods in every meal, he or she is still better off making some substitutions than none at all.  “The research seems to show that veganism is the most therapeutic and protective diet for controlling and maintaining health with diabetes, but if we consider people’s current habits, and if they do eat meat regularly now, even beginning a semi-vegetarian diet — having meat just once a week — can help,” Wattick said. DAVIS .W VU. E DU

Rebecca Hagedorn studies stressors that directly relate to students who struggle with finding reliable food options. “Ultimately, students come to college to get a degree, but if they don’t have a secure source of food, it’s really impacting their experience and success,” Hagedorn said. “Students affected by food insecurity are relying on more coping strategies. It can impact their financial habits as well as overall academic performance.” To help students who may be suffering from college food insecurity, she developed a tool kit that includes a policy piece for universities that would help schools implement programs to help restructure their campus food environment. “Whether that’s starting a food pantry or a campus garden, you have a lot of students who are coming in from low socioeconomic backgrounds who aren’t prepared for college,” she said. “It’s important to provide them with education about their finances or even teaching them how to grocery shop.” As one of only two students selected for the organization’s Science Policy Fellowship, Hagedorn will have the chance to learn from policy makers, academics and professionals to gain an expanded understanding of current nutrition policy issues and initiatives. Hagedorn will do her fellowship research in Morgantown with her advisor, REBECCA HAGEDORN

Melissa Olfert, associate professor of human nutrition and foods in the Davis College. The collaborative research is centered around lifestyle intervention, which is conducted in the Olfert Lifestyle Intervention Research Lab. “This is a huge opportunity for her development into future experiences, as she moves into a post-doc fellowship, which she’ll be continuing in my lab, and we have discussed moving several research projects to the next level,” Olfert said. “We can move toward the next stage in grant writing and intervention work.” Hagedorn will have two mentors from the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture. She will also have an academic mentor who is located at the University of Southern California.

WVU researchers assess how a vegetarian diet can help prevent or control diabetes.


Student Research

Saving the Trees

Doctoral student Cameron Stauder hopes to discover ways to reduce beech bark disease. WRITTEN BY HALEY MOORE

Nature has always been Cameron Stauder’s playground.


fungal infections. So, then you have Neonectria ditissima and faginata that move in.” One of those fungi, Neonectria ditissima, produces cankers on most of the hardwood trees on the east coast. “Because it’s not a very strong pathogen, it’s never really treated as much of a problem,” Stauder said. Beech trees are also susceptible to faginata, a fungal mystery to mycologists since it hasn’t been observed anywhere else in the world. “We don’t know where it came from,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s native to here or if it was introduced from another location. Some of the work that has been done seems to suggest that it is native. One section of my research is largely trying to decide if there are any cryptic hosts of this pathogen.” Working in the small field of plant pathology, Stauder said there are many things to be studied, but not enough people to study them. He decided it was possible that another scientist overlooked the pathogen, hoping that he might be the one to discover it.

Neonectria ditissima is heterothallic, meaning it requires another fungus to reproduce. In contrast, faginata is homothallic and undergoes asexual reproduction. “Maybe faginata is so abundant because we find so many fruiting bodies associated with it largely because it is able to reproduce with itself, whereas ditissima might need another individual in order to actually interact and produce those structures,” Stauder said. His efforts to better understand beech bark disease landed him the Merit Fellowship for Continuing Doctoral Students. “The fellowship is helping to fund my last year of research in Dr. Kasson’s lab. It allows me the opportunity continue these niche interests that I’ve kind of stumbled into. By being able to complete these projects, the publications that might come from them might ultimately be vitally important to forest pathology.” DAVIS .W VU. E DU

FAL L 2 0 1 9

Growing up in Lewisburg, Tennessee, he developed a deep appreciation for the flora and fauna that surrounded him. That appreciation led him to pursue an academic career focused on saving the trees near and dear to his heart. After earning a bachelor’s degree in forest resources management from the University of Tennessee, Stauder came to West Virginia University to conduct research with experts in plant pathology. “When I came to West Virginia, I wanted to look at forest health problems and be able to understand them to conduct research that will help us to mitigate those issues more so than what we are able to now,” he said. As a master’s student, Stauder worked alongside Louis McDonald, professor of environmental soil chemistry and soil fertility, conducting research on eastern hemlocks. “Coming out of forestry school, I spent a lot time in the Smoky Mountains where there is a high mortality rate of the eastern hemlock that’s associated with hemlock wooly adelgid,” he said. Hemlock wooly adelgid is an invasive pest that was introduced to the area and led to the mass mortality of many hemlocks in the Smoky Mountains. Stauder said there are many hemlocks still alive because of a multimillion-dollar treatment plan that injects the trees with insecticide. “I just realized that there are a lot of things going on with our forest largely due to us as a species,” he said. “From moving things around to introducing biological agents in different places, I realized it could have severe impacts on this place that I love so much.” After graduating in December 2016, Stauder spent six months working as a research assistant studying beech bark disease — research he continues to conduct as a doctoral student under the guidance of Matt Kasson, assistant professor of forest pathology. Affecting beech trees in the eastern United States and Europe, beech bark disease occurs after extensive invasion by the beech scale insect, which, in turn, causes two types of fungi to produce cankers on the bark of the tree. “The problem is that the tree becomes susceptible to fungal infections because it’s defending itself against all these scale insects,” he explained. “That defense mechanism to the scale insect creates a situation where the tree becomes vulnerable to

“I started going out and surveying trees that co-occur with beech bark disease areas,” he said. “There’s a lot of it in West Virginia, so that’s where we started.” Although they have yet to find faginata, Stauder said they were lucky to discover corinectria occurring on red spruce trees. Many scientists before him heavily studied red spruce, yet corinectria was not described. “Of course, they found other fungi, but they didn’t find any of the Neonectria fungi that we were particularly interested in, so it was kind of a novel finding,” he said. Another component to his research involves understanding the mating system of the fungi in the beech bark disease system. According to Stauder, Neonectria ditissima and faginata exhibit different mating strategies, which could lead to certain dynamics within the beech bark disease system that have yet to be discovered.


Student Research

The Last Word with Andi Guo

WVU Students Studying Climate Change Effects Through National Research Program

Andi Guo’s journey of self-discovery began at the age of 15 when she came to the United States alone to attend high school. After living with a variety of host families, the Tianjin, China, native settled in Morgantown to attend WVU. Here, she found the courage to pursue a major in fashion, dress and merchandising despite family expectations to choose something STEM-based. Through the New York Study Tour, an optional program that provides networking opportunities, she connected with bienen davis, a luxury handbag company, and jumped at the chance to intern with them.


Two Davis College graduate students developed a digital library and webinar series based on their climate change research.


What drew you to fashion, dress and merchandising?

I have always been interested in fashion. When I was in the seventh grade, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to sketch clothes I dreamed about. However, coming from an Asian family, I never considered fashion design to be my career choice. While I was getting my degree in math, I took an introductory course in fashion merchandising and that one class made me realize there is a way to combine my creativity and rationality together to make crazy ideas possible through my analytical skills.

Why did you never consider fashion design as a career? There’s a stereotype of “decent jobs” among Asian culture. For example, doctors, bankers and lawyers are considered the “decent jobs.” I chose

to pursue a mathematics major in the beginning because it would be easier to switch to a master in finance or MBA, and I would have a “decent job” as my family expected. Even though I have many hobbies, I could just enjoy them for fun. For example, if I have a "decent job,” then I could be financially capable of buying designer fashion. However, I wanted more than owning it. After taking the introductory fashion business class, I realized that I wanted to be part of the process to make fashion. So I immediately switched my major to fashion merchandising.

Has your family been supportive of your choice?

My family didn’t know much about fashion merchandising and they still wanted me to go back to mathematics in the beginning. Over the time, after I have introduced to them more about my career choices, they are very supportive now.

How did you discover bienen davis? Why did you want to intern with the company?

I was introduced to the company through the New York Study Tour, and knowing that I’m super interested in luxury fashion, my professors encouraged me to apply for this internship. After I did a little research about bienen davis, I got very excited about their combination of Italian craftsmanship and American design.

Can you describe your role as an intern?

My main responsibility at bienen davis is to handle press requests and work with different publishing companies and stylists for special events. I also manage our inventory, handle returns and work with different retailers to make sure that our shipments are on time. I’ve also been helping to develop a new collection; I’m in charge of making material submits and picking matching Pantone colors to send to manufacturers.

What particular skills or qualities do you find most helpful in your work?

My internship involves many different roles, including public relations, merchandising, product development, sourcing and logistics. Thus, a combination of hard skills and soft skills are crucial for high performance. Hard skills include textile knowledge and computer efficiency with Microsoft and Adobe. Soft skills include time management, communication and having a good attitude to learn.

What new knowledge did you acquire?

I learned how to distinguish different grades of leather and most importantly I became more familiar with the production process.

What advice do you have for other students participating in an internship? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes your questions are the things that make you stand out.

FAL L 2 0 1 9

Gordon Dimmig and Sarah Mills were two of three students who represented WVU in the Graduate Student Climate Adaptation Partners program, which brought together 15 students from six Northeast Climate Hub partner universities located from Maine to West Virginia. Gordon Dimmig is a wildlife and fisheries resources student from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. His research examines long-term changes in songbird communities from the central Appalachian Mountains.  Dimmig used a historic dataset of thousands of bird surveys conducted between 1993 and 2018 to determine how 16 songbird species are moving along the elevation gradient and the potential effects of climate change. He found that five species expanded upward, five species moved downward and six species remained the same, likely due to changes in forest conditions and population trends. “Mountainous areas have high bird diversity, and many breeding birds in the central Appalachians have very restricted distributions. Climate change and other changes to the environment may cause these species to become further restricted in smaller mountaintop patches,” Dimmig said. “There is still a lot of uncertainty about how wildlife

populations and birds will respond to changing climate and environmental conditions, so this research helps to determine what we are observing in our bird communities. It’s very unique research because long-term data is scarce, so having 26 years of data is very valuable. Dimmig has been part of GradCAP for the past two academic years. “I’ve been able to broaden my understanding of climaterelated issues and become more well-rounded in my knowledge about all sorts of research in agriculture, forestry and wildlife throughout the northeast,” he said. “I also enjoyed GradCAP because it’s a group of students from many different universities, so I was able to create connections with a unique cohort of researchers that would have been difficult to do on my own.” Sarah Mills, a plant and soil sciences graduate student from East Windsor, New Jersey, is studying the effects of climate change on flower and fruit production of horticultural crops.  “It was exciting to network with other graduate students,” she said. “At the GradCAP workshop, I met many colleagues who are working on climate change, and we all have different research areas and perspectives.” At the WVU Greenhouse, Mills is investigating the impact of temperature on the interactions between blueberry flowering and bees, their pollinator. So far, she has found that blueberry flowering is sensitive to temperature increases — reductions in flower quantity result in reductions in fruit production.  In another study, Mills is using petunias to examine how simulated climate factors like water deficit stress, elevated temperature and carbon dioxide exposure affect flower development.  “These projects address the questions of how climate change affects crop production. To my knowledge, there has been no study conducted using an incremental temperature in blueberries or applying three environmental factors at the same time in petunias or any other crop,” Mills said. “We hope to show how climate change, either small increases in temperature or combinatorial effects of water, temperature and carbon dioxide, impact our crop production.”






Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design P.O. Box 6108 Morgantown, WV 26506-6108

WVUDavis @WVUDavis

DAVIS is produced twice each year for the alumni, friends and other supporters of the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. Copyright ©2019 by the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. Brief excerpts of articles in this publication may be reprinted without a request for permission if DAVIS is acknowledged in print as the source. Contact the editors for permission to reprint entire articles. The WVU Board of Governors is the governing body of WVU. The Higher Education Policy Commission in West Virginia is responsible for developing, establishing and overseeing the implementation of a public policy agenda for the state’s four-year colleges and universities. WVU is an EEO/Affirmative Action Employer — Minority/Female/Disability/Veteran.

Non-Profit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Morgantown, WV Permit No. 34

Davis College Fall 2019 Magazine  

To learn more about the Davis College, visit

Davis College Fall 2019 Magazine  

To learn more about the Davis College, visit

Profile for wvudavis