Teens discover agriculture skills, potential careers at weeklong program

Lab glasses on, Emilia Cytron, 17, carefully and steadily extracted solution from a measuring cup without a blink. She was investigating the presence of specific genetically modified organisms in test food by extracting its DNA. This is not the first time she did biochemistry experiments in a lab.

“This is really cool. I like it,” she said, without raising her eyes or slowing down.

Emilia Cytron, a student from Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Mo., extracts DNA from the food selected and investigates which store bought foods contain the presence of specific genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a lab of the University of Missouri Tuesday, July 19. She was one of the 37 Missouri high school participants in the Life Sciences Quest summer academy. | Photo courtesy of Hli Yang
Emilia Cytron (above), from Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, and Mandar Bhoyar (below), from Marquette High School, extracted DNA from food and investigated which store-bought foods contained the presence of specific genetically modified organisms on July 19 in a lab of the University of Missouri. Cytron and Bhoyar were among the 37 Missouri high school participants in the Life Sciences Quest summer academy. | Photos courtesy of Hli Yang

Cytron, a student from Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, was one of the 37 high school students who engaged in the hands-on project during a lab session Tuesday morning. They are selected participants of a summer academy to learn about agriculture and life sciences July 17-23 at the University of Missouri.

This weeklong program, Life Sciences Quest, is organized and funded by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture. During the week, participants enjoy free tuition, food and accommodations on campus. Not only can they explore topics about agriculture and life sciences in classrooms, labs and conservation areas, they can also learn about potential career opportunities in those areas. The goal is to “inspire a new career path and an increased passion for agriculture,” Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce said in a press release.

Bryan Garton, associate dean of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, said the life-sciences job market needs more young people. Between 2015 and 2020, new U.S. graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, or the environment are expected to fill about 35,400 average annual job openings, according to a United States Department of Agriculture report.

“Agriculture is the number one industry in the state of Missouri,” Garton said. “A lot of times students don’t realize the opportunities.”

Cytron said that this program exposed her to potential career opportunities.Mandar Bhoyar, a student from Marquette High school in Chesterfield, Mo., extracts DNA from the food selected and investigates which store bought foods contain the presence of specific genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a lab of the University of Missouri Tuesday, July 19. She was one of the 37 Missouri high school participants in the Life Sciences Quest summer academy. | Photo courtesy of Hli Yang

“I knew I was interested in science, but I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she said. “(This program) helps me narrow down my career options.”

Mandar Bhoyar, a 17-year-old from Marquette High School in Chesterfield, wants to pursue a career in bioengineering with a focus on research. When he heard about this program from his college counselor, he immediately knew that it was a right fit for him.

“They talked about the significance of ethics, which is a very important aspect for future researchers,” Bhoyar said. “Two Monsanto people came yesterday and talked about what they want from future employees. … This program has been very enlightening to me.”

Participants were selected from six Missouri counties, including Jackson, Greene, St. Louis, Cole and Boone. Eight MU students serve as counselors supervising participants throughout the week. Instructors, including MU faculty members, government officials and corporate members, are all volunteers. The program will end with a ceremony at the Missouri State Capitol, where each participant will receive a graduation certificate.


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