Four WSU graduate students recently earned acceptance into the prestigious Rockey FFAR Fellows Program.
FFAR is the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. Established by Congress in 2014, it is a non-profit corporation that funds pioneering research, health, sustainability, and agriculture. The Fellows Program was established to provide professional development and career guidance to the next generation of food and agriculture scientists. Fellows are co-mentored over a three-year program by university and industry experts.
The program prepares a career-ready STEM workforce by having students from multiple disciplines work together and focuses on professional development and soft skills, like networking.
The four WSU fellows are:
- Monica Crosby, School of Food Science
- Madeline Desjardins, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
- Stephen Onayemi, Department of Entomology
- Riley Reed, Department of Entomology
Food scientist Monica Crosby has spent more than a decade working on coffee. A professional certified coffee taster with degrees in Culinary Arts and Food Science, Crosby eventually decided to pursue a Ph.D. and work toward helping children through food research.
“There is a lot of poverty where I’m from,” the South Carolina native said. “I’ve always wanted to help people and I want to create a program that can help kids—give them real-life practical skills such as baking or working with food while teaching them business skills, showing them there are possibilities. I think food is a way to connect those ideas.”
Crosby, who hopes to graduate in May 2025, said coming back to school after more than a decade in industry was intimidating, but she’s looking forward to working with the other FFAR Fellows in the program over the next few years.
“FFAR gives us great opportunities to work with people from around the country and world,” Crosby said. “I’ll need to make the most of those opportunities, because I still have so much I want to learn and people I want to meet. I’m always thinking about what I’ll be able to do after I get my doctorate and the plans I need to make to get there.”
Crosby is working with her advisor, WSU School of Food Science professor Carolyn Ross, on a project involving young children exploring food textures. She is now analyzing data on that project.
Madeline Desjardins grew up on the Hawaiian island of Maui and, after earning her bachelor’s degree in Maryland, returned to the island and participated in the Farm Apprentice Mentorship (FAM) Program. She took classes from local farmers, Native Hawaiian activists, environmental stewards, and community leaders on subjects related to sustainable agriculture, Native Hawaiian perspectives on agriculture and the environment, and water rights issues.
“I don’t have an agricultural background, but I developed an interest in science during college,” Desjardins said. “During my time as an apprentice in the FAM program, that general interest in science focused into an interest in soil science.”
That interest led her to WSU’s Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon seeking a Ph.D. in soil science. She’s currently working under Deidre Griffin LaHue at the center, with a planned graduation in 2025.
Desjardins is studying the impacts of long-term biosolids applications and cover crop grazing on soil health and sustainable crop productivity in dryland grain systems through two different research projects. Part of the funding for her degree and research comes from the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks– Waste Water Treatment Division. The FFAR Fellowship allows her to work more closely with that funding agency.
“As a Fellow, I will have different mentorship opportunities with my sponsors at King County DPNRP and will be able to work more closely with them,” she said.
Although Desjardins doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after completing her doctorate, she said she’s enjoying her work in Extension.
“I want to be at the interface of research and adoption,” she said. “That means improving my communication skills to work with farmers, scientists, NGOs, commodity organizations, and government agencies to address a range of problem areas. The FFAR Fellowship will be valuable in helping me grow those skills.”
Stephen Onayemi grew up on a one-acre peasant farm in Nigeria and knows all about the struggles faced by farmers in his homeland.
“Some years, the majority of crops my father planted were destroyed by insects,” Onayemi said. “He planted mostly corn and it was often devastated by pests.”
When Onayemi enrolled at Obafemi Awolowo University, he decided to study crop production and protection. He completed an internship on the school’s farm, where he experienced different aspects of farming, including the dependence on insecticides. He focused on insect management for his final year project and wanted to study the topic further.
That led him to WSU’s Department of Entomology, where he applied and was accepted for a master’s degree. He earned that degree last year and is now pursuing a Ph.D. He’s working on a project to fight grape mealy bugs, a vector for grape leafroll disease in vineyards.
He is studying at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, Wash., with his advisor, Doug Walsh. He plans to graduate in 2024 or 2025.
He applied for the FFAR Fellowship to help improve his networking and communication skills.
“I want to meet other people doing research that I may be able to help or contribute to,” Onayemi said. “My goal is to work on sustainability and world hunger, so having an opportunity to meet and receive mentoring from a variety of sources is fantastic.”
Riley Reed knew he wanted to be an entomologist when he first learned that word in kindergarten.
“I’ve always wanted to be around bugs and bees,” said Reed, who grew up on a farm in Othello, Wash. “I met a WSU entomologist at the local library, learned I could turn my love for bugs into a career, and I was set.”
Now a doctoral student in WSU’s Department of Entomology, Reed works with the university’s honey bee and pollinator program with his advisor, Brandon Hopkins. Reed has been involved with bees since he worked in the program as an undergraduate student earning a degree in agricultural biotechnology.
Reed hopes to continue working in academia or for the U.S. Department of Agriculture after earning his Ph.D., planned for the fall of 2025. He will take the FFAR Fellowship opportunity to help make new contacts in the field and in the agriculture industry.
“I’m excited to meet people I can work with in the future,” Reed said. “I was really excited to be accepted into this program and I can’t wait to get started.”
Reed is working on a few projects with the WSU bee program, including one team project to limit how far pollinators forage away from their colonies. That way the insects don’t cross-pollinate fields that can’t be mixed.
For that project, he is applying colorful powders to honey bees, then roaming fields to see where those bees are foraging.