“The CFAES Learning Community: A Home Away from Home”


The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Learning Community members Claire Meyer and Bethany Starlin enjoy themselves at the ice-skating social event.

By Lindsey Okuley
agricultural communication student

 As the doors to the elevator slide open, a barrage of noise immediately meets your ear drums. The brightly colored walls match the energized amalgam of noise streaming from both sides of the floor.

Both young men and women share their day’s tales of aggravation, success and anything in between. Floor two of Nosker House, as usual, is bustling with lively inhabitants sharing one another’s company.

This dorm at The Ohio State University is home to the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Learning Community (LC). Students majoring in the college are invited to apply to this community to live with fellow agricultural students.

As the first Learning Community at Ohio State, the CFAES LC is supported directly by the college. Under the direction of the college staff and Nosker House residence staff, the Learning Community has thrived for many years.

Currently, around 90 first and second-year students are living in the community on campus. These students share similar majors, interests and a deep passion for the agricultural industry.

“I’ve never worked with a group of students like this LC’s individuals who care so much about their career and have so much passion for the work that they do,” said Kyle Hovest, residence hall director of the Barrett-Nosker complex.

The CFAES Learning Community is a co-curricular experience bridging the gap between classroom learning and out-of-class experiences at college. More importantly, for students new to Ohio State, the LC provides a community that feels like a home away from their hometown.

This home away from home serves many purposes for those students living in the community.

The first purpose most often mentioned is the pursuit of building community and comradery amongst LC members. Too often, students living in dorms feel isolated from others living in their hall, as they have few shared involvement opportunities to participate in.

The CFAES Learning Community eliminates this issue by housing members in the same dorm. Additionally, members of the LC have meetings and engagement opportunities provided through the community to get to know their peers and develop lasting friendships.

“My new friends are especially nice to have when I’m struggling in class or just need someone to talk to,” said current LC member Emma Gurney.

Additionally, students in the Learning Community are given opportunities to network outside of the community.

Many events are held to allow members opportunities to personally meet faculty and staff from the college. At times, students even have opportunities to connect with agricultural business professionals, as well.

“I think a benefit is simply getting to continue making connections outside of the classroom, both with each other as well as with the faculty and staff. It’s just an opportunity to get everyone in the same room,” said Hovest.

All of these connections made through the Learning Community will prove useful beyond the students’ years at Ohio State.

The second purpose of the Learning Community is to allow both personal and career development amongst LC members.

“We have monthly meetings where we try to bring in different resources from across campus to help build you and your leadership and soft skills areas,” said CFAES Learning Community academic partner, Sarah Williams.

Through workshops in stress management, career readiness and much more, students are able to develop their personal and career skill sets.

The third purpose of the Learning Community, pertaining specifically to first-year members, is to offer an easier transition to Ohio State. Many students in the CFAES LC originate from rural American towns and villages so transitioning to a large campus can prove challenging to some.

“The LC is a place that makes a really big place feel small, helps with transition and helps make Columbus seem less intimidating for those who are not familiar with a big city feel,” said Hovest.

Finally, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Learning Community offers students the chance to become more involved in the college. As a result of increased networking opportunities, members of the LC are introduced to more involvement positions within the college.

“There’s a variety of ways that I think individuals just feel more connected to the college, and they get more connected with staff who then are shoulder-tapping them to be a part of these different initiatives,” said Hovest.

The various benefits found through membership in the CFAES Learning Community come from participation in a variety of yearly LC activities.

First, the Learning Community conducts monthly meetings in a Nosker House meeting room. At these meetings, members gather to eat, catch up on current Learning Community happenings and most importantly, participate in an engaging workshop.

These workshops help students learn skills and tricks not necessarily taught in the classroom such as financial management tips, resume building steps and other various topics.

“One meeting, they brought in Adam Cahill from the career department and he really helped answer my questions about making a resume and how to act in an interview,” said Gurney.

The second type of events held by the LC are faculty meet-and-greets. At this event, students are able to question and personally interact with various staff members from the college.

This event offers a chance for students to network with upper-level CFAES faculty members. Through this new connection, students are often introduced to opportunities within the college and their careers they previously hadn’t been aware of.

The final events conducted by the Learning Community are social events and field trips. Students often favor these events over other LC activities, as they are fun and relaxed events serving the purpose of cultivating friendship between members. Additionally, field trips offer an opportunity for members to apply their classroom knowledge to an out-of-class experience.

Previous social events have included square dancing, ice skating, cookie decorating and other fun activities. One field trip is offered each semester. This fall, the LC took a trip to Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

“I especially liked the trip to Young’s Dairy. I grew up showing cattle so it was nice to get out of Columbus and see something as familiar as a farm full of dairy cows,” said Gurney.

As with any club or organization, the Learning Community also has its own set of requirements members need to fulfill.

One such requirement is consistent event attendance.

“There’s what we call a Learning Community agreement that students agree to at the beginning of the semester saying students will attend so many events throughout the year,” said Williams.

In addition to attendance, second-year members have an additional responsibility added on after their first year in the LC.

“A requirement of second-year students that we have is that you participate in your committees, so you’re helping to plan out the activities that happen during fall semester,” said Williams.

Second-year students are selected to serve on certain LC committees throughout the year. These committees are responsible for planning and running a specific event throughout the course of the year.

Finally, the unspoken obligation asked of every LC member is to encourage an environment of acceptance and mutual assistance. Members should socialize, build rapport and work to help their LC fellow members.

So while floors two and three of Nosker House may be bursting with energy, there is so much more to hold accountable than friendly neighbors. Perhaps these students in the CFAES LC found a place where they simply feel like they belong. Perhaps this place even serves as their home away from home.

“Joining the LC was definitely the best decision I’ve made and I don’t regret a single part of it,” said Gurney.


This feature story was written by Lindsey Okuley, an agricultural communication student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.

ACEL faculty, grad student collects data in Uganda for water systems project

Dr. Rodriguez and Rafael in Masindi, Uganda during their data collection trip in early March.

In early March, Rafael Landaverde, a PhD student in agricultural communication, education, and leadership, and Dr. Mary Rodriguez, assistant professor in community leadership, traveled to Uganda to collect data as part of the Governance Research on Water Systems (GROWS) project.

GROWS is a grant funded research project with Global Environment and Technology Foundation, US Water Partnership, The Ohio State University, Global Partners for Development and USAID that aims to design and disseminate water governance systems in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. You can learn more about the project here.

While their trip was cut short due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, they did get a photo in Masindi, Uganda to show that the work of CFAES spans worldwide.

“Kasey Miller: Involved College Student and Business Owner”

By Megan Maurer
agricultural communication student

“I’m always dancing; I’m addicted to Red Bull; I love to bake.” These are the words of one unique individual. She is your average college student; she has hobbies; she goes to class; she completes her course work; she participates in multiple extracurricular activities. But one thing sets Kasey Miller apart from the rest of the students within The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences; she is also a business owner.

“A typical day this semester would be waking up at 6:30 to commute to campus for my 8 am class…Then I have a little bit of break in between classes and try to work on homework and client communication, and making sure my calendar is up to date and I’m not missing any appointments I had scheduled with potential clients. Then I’ll go to my next class, and once that is over on most days I would head to either a cheer practice or tumbling practice where I have to supervise. Or while they were in season, I had games during the week. Depending on the day or time the sunset I would typically have pictures scheduled for after whatever I had going on with cheer. …So running from one thing to another was really all I did. And thrown in throughout would be meetings and events.”

Kasey is currently a junior studying agricultural communication at The Ohio State University.  As an agricultural communication student, Kasey not only studies photography and its’ role in agriculture, but coursework also includes publication design, web design and journalism and their roles in agriculture, which all benefit Kasey’s goals within her business. She is a newly activated member of Sigma Alpha, a professional agricultural sorority within CFAES, and is an active member in Ohio State’s Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow club. She commutes to the Columbus campus from her hometown of Pataskala, which calls for a lot of early mornings and late nights.

“She’s very organized,” said Dr. Emily Buck, professor of Agricultural Communication at Ohio State, “I mean she is always professional, that’s the thing about Kasey. She’s got like a sweet, bubbly personality, but she always gets stuff done and cares about how things are done.”

Not only is she actively involved through Ohio State, but Kasey also participates in volunteering at the Columbus Metropolitan Libraries and is an assistant coach for her high school’s cheerleading team, all on top of running her successful photography business.

“When I was really young I swore I was going to be a wedding dress designer and my original dream for college was to go to New York City and go to FIT for fashion merchandising,”

During her senior year of high school, Kasey struggled to figure out her path in life. She has always been a creative person with even bigger dreams, and she was always crafting small business-like ways to make herself some money, including when she exhibited pigs through 4-H.

Kasey Beth Photography was established in 2017, and specializes in wedding and senior photography across the state of Ohio. The business is booming and its success can be credited to Kasey’s time spent on learning the ins and outs of photography. Just this last October she shot over 30 sessions and three weddings.

Throughout her photography career, Kasey has collaborated with vendors and her team of fifteen seniors to create a styled photoshoot that helps promote her senior clientele. The team includes seniors from various high schools surrounding Pataskala, and they are responsible for promoting Kasey Beth Photography on social media once a month in order to receive money back through referrals. Along with the styled shoots, Kasey works along with other photographers throughout Ohio as a second photographer in for various events and weddings.

“I think that is one of the reasons I was able to take off so successfully,” Kasey said when asked about investing into her business. “…I was willing to invest into myself and the business so it could thrive.”

Kasey spent all the money she had saved through 4-H to invest in a professional camera and equipment, online photography courses and workshop after workshop so she could gain knowledge from industry professionals and leaders. Not only did Kasey invest her own time and money into getting her business off the ground, but her parents were also a big factor in the success of Kasey Beth Photography.

“My Dad came from nothing and has built an incredibly successful business all on his own. He instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in me from a very young age and fostered my desire to be my own boss.”

Kasey always lends a hand to others, even with her demanding lifestyle. “Kasey is my mentor that I look up to everyday within my own business,” said Makayla Petersen, new photographer and agricultural communication student within CFAES, “Her work reflects the time she has spent into becoming an amazing photographer.”

With such a busy, hectic lifestyle it is difficult for Kasey to balance everything; she even commented on her inability to distinguish between working time and down time. Considering her array of extracurricular activities and constant increase in number of photo shoots, balancing college life with business life is something Kasey is working to improve on.

“I’m always trying to improve different areas of my business…the main thing I am looking to work on right now would be to improve client communication and turnaround time for clients.”

Kasey’s next big goal in life is to become a full time photographer right out of college. While that might not be a realistic outcome, Kasey plans to keep growing and improving where she can. She plans to continue her busy hobbies such as coaching cheer, but she hopes her business will consistently bloom through college and into the real world.

“I have doubled profits the past two years and hope to do the same for 2020 and would be at a goal I feel is good enough to live on once I graduate.”

In five years, Kasey sees herself as a married woman, hopefully working as a full time wedding photographer. Her wish is to be doing between fifteen and twenty weddings a year, and she is definitely on track to reach this objective. No matter how her business works out, Kasey is going to be content as long as she is living a happy and healthy.


This feature story was written by Megan Maurer, an agricultural communication student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.

“Breaking stereotypes and building community”

Camila Manriquez checks the water levels in an infiltrometer, a device that measures rate of water infiltration, to use for data collection in a plot of corn.
Photo credit: Cassandra Brown

By Haley Schmersal
agricultural communication student

What do you think of when you hear the word lab?

Most people picture a scientist working alone in a white coat and goggles dealing with extreme chemicals and complicated formulas on a chalkboard. While that may be the case in some labs, that is far from accurate when it comes to the Weed Ecology Lab at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).

The OARDC Weed Lab, or OWL for short, is a place where researchers like to get their hands dirty. On a cool fall afternoon, you can find several members of the lab deep in a row of corn wearing rubber boots, baseball caps, and gloves carrying on lively conversations while collecting data for a project. While the research project may only belong to one member of the group, there are always others ready to help, even people from other labs.

This is just one of many ways the OWL lab is different from what people may expect. In the Weed Lab, researchers mainly study common types of weeds, various weed control methods, and how these weeds can impact crops in Ohio. With such dense subject matter, it’s easy to picture this as a boring job. However, the members of the lab would disagree.

The OARDC Weed Lab creates a sense of community that helps its employees flourish. This is accomplished through hands-on research, learning experiences and a healthy dose of fun. Between mentors with over two decades of experience and the occasional birthday celebration, there is never a dull moment for the researchers and assistants in the lab.

When it comes to research, the OWLs do things differently than most would expect. Teamwork is a key aspect of every day at the lab. Whether it’s something as simple as a how to format their data or as complicated as designing a new experiment, lab members are always working together and bouncing ideas off each other.

Each member of the lab has their own specializations and interests, which is beneficial for both themselves and the group. If one person is not as knowledgeable in an area, they are more than likely able to find someone who is an expert just a few doors down. In turn, this leads to people learning from one another.

Cathy Herms, Research Assistant 2 and two-decade employee said they all work together because it helps ensure the quality of the data, it keeps people motivated, and it helps people learn from one another.

Some researchers even get to work with local farmers who allow them to test different types of weed control on their properties. This gives researchers a chance to see how what they are doing can have an impact on others. Many times, the friendships with the farmers and families that they have met last beyond the length of the project.

Even with a heavy workload, employees in the lab make time for fun, friends, and food.

“In my opinion, food brings people together,” said Herms.

If an employee has a birthday, it’s going to be celebrated. During lunch time, you can find the OWLs gathered around a long table in their conference room with the scent of a homemade potluck and laughter filling the air. Lunch is also accompanied by a birthday dessert, usually consisting of Herms’ homemade brownies and ice cream.

“One thing I’ve been told is that we have more parties, birthdays, and stuff than any other lab on the campus,” said Dr. Douglas Doohan, Professor of Horticulture and Crop Science.

This type of interaction is important to everyone in the lab because it is one extra step that makes them feel appreciated and builds their sense of belonging. It also gives them the opportunity to converse with one another outside of work topics and build close relationships.

Allison Robinson, Research Assistant 2, joined the OARDC Weed Lab four years ago. When she first started working there, she was embarrassed to speak English because it was not her first language. Because of the welcoming atmosphere and the encouragement of others, Robinson eventually became more confident in herself and became close with others in the lab. She even met her husband, Ben Robinson, who also works in the lab.

“Personally, and professionally both I’ve grown a lot,” said Robinson.

But why do people become so close to one another and grow in the Weed Lab? It could be because they are required to spend so much time together. However, the people that work there know that it is due to much more than that.

Not only do the OWLs spend time together in the lab, they also spend time together outside of the lab. This is a rare feature when it comes to a workplace, and something that helps contribute to the sense of community that can be found in the lab. It also brings the employees closer together and helps them get to know each other better.

“They [The employees] don’t feel bad about coming to work in the morning,” said Doohan.

Being part of the OWLs is more like being part of a family. Everyone strives to make each other feel valuable and included, which is key in such a high paced environment. They also share the same general goals and values, something that many places lack.

“We all have the same kind of passion for learning and research,” said Herms.

Herms and Doohan have both been a part of the OARDC Weed Lab family for over twenty years, so they are essentially experts in what they do. They serve as mentors for the graduate students and guide them through any problems they may have, science related or not.

“I love working and mentoring with the grad students…” said Herms.

With years of experience under their belts, Doohan and Herms know how to most effectively lead their team. They know how to listen to people’s opinions and give them constructive feedback. They also take the time to get to know everyone personally and include everyone in the lab, even part time assistants.

At the end of the day, researchers at the OARDC Weed Ecology Lab know that they can come to work, have a good day, and do their best. When they walk through the door each morning, they know that they will be greeted with a bright smile and a warm welcome.

While the research may seem daunting at times, it can be accomplished each day by using teamwork and a combination of everyone’s strengths. The motivation for this goes back to the fact that team members know that they are valued and that they belong. This feeling is achieved through acceptance, guidance and the occasional birthday celebration.


This feature story was written by Haley Schmersal, an agricultural communication student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.

Oglesby to attend graduate school at University of Florida

Congratulations to 2020 agricultural communication graduate Meredith Oglesby, who will be continuing her education this fall at the University of Florida.

Meredith will be pursuing a master’s degree in agricultural education and communication with a specialization in communication. She will be a teaching assistant in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication,

Best of luck Meredith! We can’t wait to see you succeed in graduate school!

Newell to attend graduate school in Amsterdam

Congratulations to 2020 agricultural communication graduate Emma Newell, who will be continuing her education this fall at the University of Amsterdam.

Emma will be pursuing a master’s degree in international development studies.

Best of luck Emma! We can’t wait to see you succeed in graduate school!

“Hope for a Healthy Lake”

By Abby David
community leadership student

Imagine that it’s a sweltering day in the middle of August. You’re an ambitious athlete training for a marathon, so you decide to go on a run — a 20 mile run.

Beads of sweat run down your back as you approach mile 5, and without a water bottle at hand, you rely only on the water fountains found along the path you’re running. With relief, you spot a water fountain and seek to take a swig, only to see it is covered with a black trash bag. Thinking it was broken, you shrug and keep on running.

Parched from nearly 15 miles of running in the heat, you find another water fountain covered in a black trash bag. At this point, nothing else is on your mind but water, so you tear a hole in the bag and take a drink.

Although your intense thirst was quenched, you realized later than you had ingested water filled with toxins produced by a harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie.

This situation happened in 2014 to Dr. Jason Huntley, an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Toledo, during the Toledo water crisis. Lake Erie has been affected by harmful algal blooms for decades, causing health issues, green water and upset residents. Nutrient runoff and warming waters exacerbate the algal blooms and, with no intervention, the blooms are expected to become worse.

Fight Bacteria with Bacteria
Huntley said the algal bloom in 2014 happened to be located over the intake crib, causing the toxicity to reach dangerous levels. He was one of nearly half a million residents that was unable to use or consume any tap water for three days for the fear of liver issues, neurotoxicity, gastrointestinal distress and skin lesions. After long enough exposure, the toxins could even cause liver cancer.

Huntley, being a curious scientist and a caring citizen of Toledo, was inspired to study this photosynthesizing bacteria and develop solutions for the health and livelihood of the city’s people, as well as to understand its effects. Knowing that the algae production itself couldn’t be stopped, he decided to look at the situation from another angle.

“If you can’t stop nutrients going into Lake Erie, if you can’t really stop the harmful algal blooms — which we can’t — and they’re going to produce the toxin, what if there’s other bacteria in the lake that could use this as an energy source?” said Huntley.

Huntley said that the toxin is made up of amino acids that form energy in organisms. This fact sparked his idea to search for a bacteria in the lake that evolved to use this toxin as an energy source. Huntley’s search was successful.

“We’ve isolated them, we’ve shown that they can actually eat the toxin, and they break it up into non-toxic products,” said Huntley.

Huntley’s hope is to give the isolated bacteria to water treatment plants once enough studies have been conducted. The bacteria would be placed in sand filters and would remove the toxins as the water seeps through the sand. Before this can be done, however, the bacteria needs to be proven as safe. Huntley said that a solution will be available eventually.

“Science takes time and you have to prove things and reprove things and come at it from a second way,” said Huntley. “We’re working to a solution.”

Beyond the Tap
Of course, the safety of tap water is a major priority, but the algae affects citizens’ livelihoods, too. The Lake Erie Western Basin is known for its many attractions — amusement parks, water parks and, of course, the lake. Tourism is what feeds this area, and a healthy lake is essential for some businesses to stay afloat.

Brian Edwards, the director of marketing and communications at Lake Erie Shores and Islands, said that the charter fishing industry has seen the most damage.

“They have had to cancel trips or they’ve had to find different areas in the lake to go fishing because of the blooms, so it’s definitely impacted that group the most in this region,” said Edwards.

Luckily, many of the other attractions in the area have not lost business due to the algae. Edwards said that the Lake Erie area has around 11 million visitors every year.

Edwards said that a common misconception is that all of the lake is covered in algae or that all of the algae is toxic, but that isn’t the case. However, the algae is still an eyesore, even if it isn’t toxic.

“If I were to go someplace and saw the bright green algae bloom right there along the shore, absolutely I wouldn’t go in it and absolutely I wouldn’t allow my kids to go in it, I wouldn’t allow my dog to go in it,” said Edwards.

Edwards said that when there is no algae present, visitors can still do all of the activities they want and enjoy the lake as they always have.

Helping Hands
Because Lake Erie affects so many people, Huntley isn’t the only one trying to help: The Ohio State University, Kent State and University of Cincinnati, are just a few of the many universities working towards a solution. In fact, Ohio State even has an island campus that allows students to work with and study the algae up close.

Max Puckett, 18, of Oak Harbor, Ohio, attended Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie the past two years. There, he collected samples of different kinds of algae and studied it as a part of his Introduction to Biology class, where the curriculum is heavily focused on Cyanobacteria.

Puckett said that his time at Stone Laboratory has been one of his favorite memories and has learned a lot about the algae, given that the island is in the area that suffers from blooms. He hopes that there are solutions to help the lake and reduce the human impact.

These universities come together, too. Huntley said that conferences are held about the algae, where people bounce ideas and solutions off each other. Reducing nutrient runoff is one option to help by making fertilizer more expensive or adding a tax to keep people from using so much. However, these options are not guaranteed to help.

“I mean, it’s easy to sit at college, or me, sit in my office and talk about what we should do, but that’s why you’ll never hear me say that,” said Huntley. “Because life is complicated.”

There is Hope
There is a long way to go before the lake is healthy again, but it is clear that people care and are striving for solutions. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be well worth it.

“Yes, there’s hope, but I think it’s going to require some pretty substantial changes,” said Huntley. “People are going to have to buy in.”


This feature story was written by Abby David, a community leadership student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.