Internship Program Celebrates George Washington Carver's Legacy

A fascination with science attracted 25 students from throughout the United States to this summer’s George Washington Carver internship program.

Seven students came from Tuskegee University and two of those students included Alayjah Muhammad, a sophomore studying plant and soil science, and Steven Samuels, a graduate student in integrative biosciences.

Muhammad spent the summer studying insects and disease transmission under the supervision of Joel Coats, Iowa State University distinguished professor of entomology. She focused on the tree oil of Chinese Cedar Wood and its ability to repel cockroaches, mosquitoes and houseflies.

Originally from Los Angeles, Muhammad took an interest in plants at a young age.  She’s working on her master’s degree in plant and soil science and plans to start a business after graduating in May 2016 from Tuskegee University.

Samuels also has an interest in plants. He attended Fort Valley University in Georgia for his undergraduate degree and developed interested in science, specifically plant biotechnology and immunology.

“I’ve always loved plants. I used to think you just put them in the ground and they grew,” Samuels said. “Now I know there is much more to the process.”

Samuels met Theressa Cooper, the assistant dean of diversity with the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, when she visited Tuskegee and told him about the George Washington Carver internship program.

This summer he is getting the chance to complete his research at Iowa State. Samuels is researching a protein that has the capability to slow the infection of HIV.

To recreate the protein, Samuels is using sweet potato plants as a vector. He is testing the reaction of the plants to the protein. So far results have been positive, but the research is taking longer than expected. In order to finish, Samuels has decided to stay at Iowa State this fall.

“The background of George Washington Carver growing up as a minority just reinforced my decision to go into a STEM field and continue my passion for science,” said Samuels.

The George Washington Carver internship program, which is sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, introduces both college and high school students to various areas of research at Iowa State.

Cooper said the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that careers in STEM related fields will increase 17 percent through 2018.

“The program serves as a conduit to bridge the gap between access and opportunity that is not always available to multicultural populations, first generation college students and students who have had minimal exposure to agriculture and related sciences,” Cooper said.

The goal is to enhance research through increased diversity, with a focus on graduate education. During the summer the interns participate in weekly seminars, programs, cultural activities and agricultural tours.

The program promotes "science with practice" by immersing students in a variety of research activities. Faculty from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of  Veterinary Medicine mentor and assist students with their research projects. This summer's program included 13 undergraduate students, three graduate students and nine high school students from 13 states and one student from Kenya.