The third class of the Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) recently began an 11-week summer of science at the NC Research Campus (NCRC). This year’s class will not only work in teams to research crops including broccoli, blueberries, strawberries and oats, they will also be involved in cooking demonstrations and community outreach, engaging the public with real-world implications of their lab research. The summer experience is capped off by a symposium on July 29 at the NCRC.
The 30 P2EP undergraduate interns will continue the research into the characterization of plant fibers, phytochemical metabolites and plant pathways started by previous interns. The NCRC’s top scientists and doctoral students will train them in the application of cutting-edge bioinformatics tools and genome sequencing. The interns will work toward specific project goals and contribute to peer-reviewed research that will be published in scientific journals.
Dr. Cory Brouwer, Director of Bioinformatic Services at UNC Charlotte, reflected on the experiential aspect of P2EP, saying, “Like Albert Einstein said, ‘Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.’ What we’re doing with P2EP is taking the information the students have taken in over the school year and turning it into real learning.” He recalls, “For myself, when I was an undergrad student, I didn’t truly apply myself until I started working in a lab and saw the application of what I was learning in my classes. After that, classwork became much more interesting.”
While the internship experience is designed to advance a meaningful body of knowledge in the areas of agriculture, nutrition and human health, Dr. Mary Ann Lila, Director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, says, “Another important aspect of the program is learning to appreciate and value diverse perspectives and complementary strengths when part of a transdisciplinary team. Industries of today are seeking these skill sets and our interns will be better prepared for career opportunities.”
In addition to laboratory research, the interns will share what they are learning and the impact of their research during a brief, weekly presentation, “5-Minute Madness.” Special groups, including STEM educators and participants in the Rubus and Ribes Symposium, an international berry conference, will join the P2EP leadership team as an audience for these professional development exercises.
The interns will also trade their lab coats for aprons to lead a cooking demonstration in partnership with Cabarrus Health Alliance. Attendees will observe the preparation of a fruit-based salsa that utilizes food ingredients directly related to the intern’s research. Under direction of Aubrey Mast, the Plants for Human Health Institute’s Extension Associate in Nutrition, the students will share the “take home” message of research-based findings that demonstrate a specific human health benefit that can be attained from certain fruits and spices.
The capstone event of the summer will be a research symposium on Wednesday, July 29 at the NCRC, where the interns will present an overview of their summer research and participate in a poster competition.
P2EP is a collaborative training and education program designed to advance research on key crops while preparing students for successful careers in STEM fields. In three years, P2EP received over $2 million in funding allowing 74 interns to receive training in advanced fields of scientific inquiry and supporting the programs of seven graduate students. Sponsors are Cabarrus Economic Development Council, Castle and Cooke, Catawba College, David H. Murdock Research Institute, Dole Nutrition Institute, Duke Energy Foundation, General Mills, Inc., Holiday Inn – Kannapolis, Johnson C. Smith University, Linguamatics Ltd., Livingstone College, N.C. Biotechnology Center, N.C. Research Campus, N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute, Pfeiffer University, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Turner Construction, UNC Charlotte Bioinformatics Services Division, UNC General Administration and Winston-Salem State University. For more information, visit www.P2EP.org.