Researchers serve multiple purposes at Ohio University

If you were to read local newspapers, you might forget that researchers aren’t just holed up all day playing with test tubes. You might not hear anything about them at all.

Research is a vital function of universities; that is inescapable. But many people in or around a college setting might forget that fact.

Plant biology and ecology are just two studies in which faculty and students at Ohio University are making sustainable and lasting strides.

Tanner Filyaw, a first-year master’s student in Environmental Science Studies, received his undergraduate degree from Ohio University in 2005. Filyaw has worked in some capacity with Rural Action since 2005, helping local landowners make money with sustainable practices. The key he has identified is American Ginseng.

North America is host to two of 11 types of Ginseng across the world, according to the West Virginia Public Broadcasting Documentary “Ginseng Culture.” Filyaw noted that Appalachia is where the crop is particularly prevalent, and that Ginseng grows nearly as much in Ohio as any other of the 19 states where it is known to grow in the United States.

What Filyaw hopes to contribute with his research is “essentially pushing toward more organic, natural-style production.”

“It produces the highest-value product,” he said. “It costs the grower the least amount of money to do it.”

Little to no literature exists in his field on forest-grown ginseng; instead, literature exists on field-based cultivation or greenhouse trials of ginseng cultivation. Filyaw said he believes that forest-based cultivation research is inherently valuable.

Filyaw’s research since his time as an undergrad has helped fill a role with Rural Action, an economic development agency that seeks to “foster social, economic and environmental justice in Appalachian Ohio.” His research as a master’s student follows a distinct but similar path.

Elsewhere in plant biology, others conduct similarly intriguing though largely unrecognized research.

Anne Sternberger is in the second year of acquiring her doctorate from OU after graduating from California University of Pennsylvania, and is a teaching assistant who works in Porter Hall.

Sternberger suggests that while the sciences can be harsh and competitive,  the environment that she is in at Ohio University is collaborative and supportive.

“It’s not all easy. I’ve cried a few times, but I think with any graduate program that’s going to be a common theme,” she said.

Many research labs on campus have PACE students, she said. The PACE (Program to Aid Career Exploration) program is an internship-like program that sets out to be a resume-booster and helps students to gain experience. In all, she estimated that 13 or 14 undergrads do research in her department.

Sternberger helps students with lab techniques and how to seek further opportunity in their field. The students help to lend a hand with research in the field.

Many students find that they like the work even more than they expected.

“I don’t think I would have pursued this field further or applied to graduate school had I not that critical exposure, and I see that a lot with the students that come in,” Sternberger said.

Her work has meaningful and measurable possible benefits.

“I am looking for the genes involved in causing one flower type to be produced over another,” Sternberger said.” If I’m able to resolve what genes are involved in this system, I’d be able to control the production of cross-pollination or self-fertilization.”

Research increases the potential for future knowledge and opportunity on college campuses. It’s not just for scientific communities, though.

Advertising student Amy Schmitt has worked as a Strategic Communications Marketing Director for the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) for Snapple. She is also a sophomore at Ohio University and a member of Ohio University’s Ad Club. Her research has centered on consumers. She worked to seek out patterns to discover who Snapple drinkers are.

“Knowing how to conduct research is a great skill in professional development because it’s a necessary step in any project,” she said. “And the people you work with appreciate the information you give them and take you seriously.”

In addition, Schmitt said her research experience has opened doors for her outside of school.

“If (research) has taught me to have the patience to fully understand something before diving into executions. It has taught me how to communicate with a team who is counting on you for information,” Schmitt said. “It’s taught me how to put data into context to tell a story. It’s also really taught me to be confident in the insights that I have.”

What kind of research do you want to read about? Do organizations like Compass, Perspectives and the Student Expo adequately highlight student research? Let us know in the comments or @ATNUnearthed. d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);

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Kaleb Carter
Staff Writer
Kaleb is a senior journalism student at Ohio University. He has an interest in shedding light upon underreported stories and is a bit too glued to his phone and computer.

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