From the Ground Up

Tessa Barker | M.S. Crop Science | Class of 2022

Salem, OR | ISHS member | B.A. Sociology

ASHS Undergraduate Oral Competition 2nd & 3rd Place 

Hands On Food

I enjoy lots of DIY food projects--canning, making herbal teas and syrups from scratch, baking, and I'm part of a newly formed yogurt-making cooperative!

The Future Underfoot

I chose to study crop science because I care deeply about agriculture and our local food system. I'm fascinated by food-producing crops, and have a desire to learn more about how these plants work, both at the level of plant physiology, and up to the whole farm ecosystem level. Additionally, I have always admired the work of the OSU Extension Service, in connecting farmers and members of the community to research and other university resources. In my experience first as a postbacc student and now grad student at OSU, I've had the opportunity to work in two very different crops--strawberries, which have historically played a large role in Oregon agriculture, and olives, which are a brand new crop in the region. In both cases, I've been able to see what a difference it makes to have researchers and extension agents who are truly engaged with the local farming community, whether it's with a brand new industry, or one that is in the midst of transformation.

Bringing Home the Berries

I've had incredible opportunities through the College of Ag Sciences, in both the beginning researcher program, as well as the branch experiment station internship. For the beginning researcher program, I worked with Javier Fernandez-Salvador at the OSU Extension office in Marion County, and the following summer, I continued my work with him at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center. These opportunities were my first exposure to agricultural research, as well as a chance to work with Extension both behind the scenes and in their engagement with the public. I worked on an experiment on containerized strawberry transplants, and also helped with the newly launched olive project. I learned a huge amount that spring and summer, including field management, tractor driving, data collection, data analysis, and grant writing. Both opportunities were pretty life changing - I started the program hoping to gain some experience, and possibly find a mentor and project for graduate school. After putting in a ton of hard work, and thanks to Javier's mentorship and belief in my abilities, I was able to start working with him as a masters student this past year.

Research Extension

In the next five years, I hope to have completed a Master's program in crop science, and would like to continue working with Extension or a similar organization that connects farmers with agricultural research. Additionally, I'm interested in working with nonprofits that focus on food security and/or gardening education. I've really enjoyed the opportunities I've had through Ag Sciences to work with the public on agricultural issues, and hope to do more of that!

Taking the Non-Traditional Path

Coming back to school was definitely a challenge for me. I received a B.A. in Sociology a few years back, but didn't really utilize it much. I decided to switch directions and pursue a career in the natural sciences, but that required a lot of preparation. I had to retake math classes, and take many science classes for the first time at the college level. I had to re-learn how to navigate the university system, as a non-traditional "post baccalaureate" student, which is sort of a liminal space between being an undergrad and a grad student, without many of the privileges (or funding sources) available to either. I overcame these challenges by reminding myself that I didn't have to follow other people's timelines for when they started grad school, or their careers, or what have you. I stayed focused on my own goals, and reminded myself what I was working towards. I also chose a field in which the educational journey, so to speak, has been just as enjoyable as I hope the career will be.

Jump On In

I would encourage students to get involved in research or other experiential projects early, and to connect with faculty whose work they are interested in. Find a team or a lab where you are encouraged to work together, and learn from each other. I would also suggest focusing on a topic or a field where even the more day-to-day tasks, or the balance of work, is enjoyable to you. I love being outside and interacting with plants, but I also enjoy having more computer-based work for those rainy days.

Read more about Tessa's research at Olea, the OSU olive research blog.