Purdue Ag Alumni’s Graduate Student Industry Tour: An Eye Opening Experience

During the semester Fall break, Purdue College of Agriculture and Purdue Ag Alumni offered the first Graduate Student Industry tour which highlights some of the great companies in and around Indianapolis and learned about their core businesses, laboratory facilities, and work environments. Fifty graduate students under the College of Agriculture participated on the tour along with some of the faculty members and staffs, including Dr. Barbara L. Golden from Department of Biochemistry and Dr. Shawn S. Donkin from Department of Animal Sciences. The tour was managed by Ag Alumni Program Manager, Danica C. Kirkpatrick.

As an international graduate student, I was very excited to be selected for this tour because just like many students who participated on this tour, I still have a little idea about career opportunities and the day-to-day rhythms of the workplace. Providing students to tour a company helps gain a firsthand knowledge of the technologies and skills apply especially in STEM-related jobs.

The two days tour started on October 9th includes a visit to Dow AgroSciences headquarter, Eli Lily and Company corporate campus, Roche Diagnostics and Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI). I also attended a poster session and a networking reception at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit. In the networking event, I met with the members of the Indy Science Connect networking organization and industry professionals from companies like Eli Lily, Dow AgroSciences, and Labcyte Inc. I had the opportunity to engage with them in STEM research and think about how I might connect to tech-related jobs post graduation or participate in an internship program. 

With some of the students at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit
With some of the students at the 2017 BioCrossroads Indiana Life Science Summit

This tour has been an eye-opening experience because I was impressed by the diversity of life science ecosystems in Indiana, especially in and around Indianapolis. It was also inspiring to learn from the Purdue alumni and other industry professionals about their journey to building a successful career after leaving the school. On a fun note, I also had the chance to meet new friends and explore the city together. I hope Purdue will keep on supporting such accessible interactive event that will enrich students experience during their graduate studies.

A group picture in front of Dow AgroSciences headquarter (thank you, Jennifer Hale, from Dow AgroSciences for the picture).
A group picture in front of Dow AgroSciences headquarter (thank you, Jennifer Hale, from Dow AgroSciences for the picture).

Due to company policy, taking a picture is not allowed most of the times during the tour but here is some information about the companies to share a bit of excitement about the tour:

Founded in the 1950s, Dow AgroSciences has been a part of Indiana’s agriculture heritage and is one of the biggest companies that develop sustainable chemical and biotechnology solutions for increasing crop productivity. Ely Lily is an American global pharmaceutical company that was founded by Colonel Eli Lily in 1876. They have developed and delivered trusted medicines includes treatments in the areas of oncology, cardiovascular, diabetes, critical care, neuroscience, men’s health and musculoskeletal fields. Roche Diagnostics is a part of the Roche company businesses, one of the largest biotechnologies company in the world. Roche Diagnostics focus on delivering diagnostic solutions to provide sustainable healthcare and improve people’s lives. Meanwhile, IBRI is a relatively new institute founded in 2012 that has a mission to bring world-class research talents to Indiana to enable discovery science and innovation, working in collaboration with academic and industry researcher.

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Jessica Eisma photo

PhD student Jessica Eisma impacts African dams

PhD student Jessica Eisma has completed a one-year project studying sand dams in Tanzania.

In 2016, Eisma was awarded a pair of prestigious research grants — totaling more than $45,000 — from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and the U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security Program to study the ecological impact of sand dams in Tanzania. She flew to Africa in August 2016 to begin her study, which is the basis for her doctoral thesis.

Eisma, whose focus is in hydrology, investigated the ecological impacts of three sand dams in collaboration with researchers from the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology.

In semi-arid regions of the world, sand dams are useful for capturing and storing rainwater into the dry season. The water is used for domestic or agricultural purposes, saving women and children up to three hours each day normally spent collecting the family’s water.

Her research aims to develop an understanding of how sand dams influence both the physical and biological changes that occur after a sand dam is constructed. Preliminary results indicate that a typical sand dam actually has a much smaller impact on groundwater levels than previously believed. Studies thus far have largely been performed on the “ideal” sand dam, when in reality up to 60% of sand dams are silted and therefore non-functioning. Furthermore, Eisma has found little to no trace of macroinvertebrate life in sand dams, hinting that sand dams do not create a suitable habitat.

This research is particularly important, because NGOs across sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly building sand dams, yet few field studies have been conducted to understand the greater impacts of these structures. Eisma says, “As civil engineers, we are constantly addressing the consequences of decisions made when certain concepts were still largely misunderstood. In a similar vein, I hope my research helps illuminate both the positives and negatives of sand dams before over-development occurs.”

Eisma also worked closely with local community water groups to achieve her research objectives. Volunteers from the community were trained by Eisma to take daily measurements of climate data and water table depth as well as bi-weekly erosion measurements. The volunteers will continue collecting data until Eisma returns to Tanzania in December 2017 for a two week data validation trip.

About her year in Tanzania, Eisma says, “The challenges were definitely greater and different from what I was expecting, but I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and conduct research in Tanzania. This experience has been irreplaceable in terms of developing cross-cultural competence and refining my scientific communication skills.”

Eisma plans to pursue a professorship at a research university after completing her PhD at Purdue.