“The man with the mullet”


Chase Gasser lines up across from a teammate in a defensive practice drill. Regarded as one of the toughest players on the team, Gasser enjoys the chance to play football for the club team.

By Zachary Steiner
agricultural communication student

Chase Gasser was curiously wandering through the involvement fair on the oval of Ohio State’s campus his freshman year when he saw the OSU club football team booth. This was an open door for him to once again play the game he loved so much—football.

Regarded by his coaches and teammates as someone who embodies the culture of the club team and plays with energy every snap, Gasser has had a successful career. He also is an agricultural systems management major in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Gasser is a native of Creston, Ohio—a small farming community in Northeast Ohio where he grew up with an agricultural background and playing football each fall for his local high school team, the Norwayne Bobcats.

Originally, Gasser did not know what to expect when he first showed up for practice with the club team. He did not know what it would be like, but he took a chance and club football has since become a full commitment for him.

“I didn’t think it was going to be serious at all. I showed up thinking it was going to be a good old time,” Gasser said. “It was me going out on a limb to give it a try and here we are.”

Gasser, who stands at sturdy 6’2’’ and 220 lbs., is listed as the team’s starting defensive tackle. A man who rocks a long blonde mullet and scraggly facial hair, he fits the job description. His playing style certainly fits the mold as well.

He would describe his demeanor on the field being like a wild man—fitting for someone who prepares for each game listening to AC/DC.

“You just gotta be a wild man. You gotta be gritty. You can never shy down from the guy across from you,” Gasser said. “Playing defensive tackle, those big offensive linemen are often bigger than me, so I can’t be intimidated.”

OSU club football team’s first-year head coach, James Grega, took one look at Gasser and instantly thought he would be a great addition to the team. What gave it away? The long blonde mullet that flows from his grey helmet.

“The first thing that comes to mind is the hair and you see the hair and you think this guy has to be a good football player because you can’t pull off that hair and not be good at football,” Grega said.

Being named to the All-American team for the National Club Football Association his first two seasons, Gasser certainly has a career full of accolades. However, what his teammates most appreciate about him is the leadership he has brought. He exemplifies what it means to be a buckeye on the club team.

“From day one, the first time he came out to practice, you could just see you weren’t going to have a tougher guy on the team, a guy that is going to give everything he’s got every play. He brings a ton of energy to practice and to our games,” Grega said. “He’s been one of those guys who has been instrumental to establish the culture of winning.”

Gasser believes you have to play the game with energy. He prides himself on being a team player—sacrificing for the teammates around him.

“This sport is all about passion and playing for the guy next to you and it is something to have the opportunity to play at a university like this,” Gasser said.

The team is made up of a wide range of people from different backgrounds. Everything from players formerly on the varsity squad to small-town farm kids, Gasser enjoys the challenge of bringing the group together.

“This is the most absurd group of people you will ever see on one team, but somehow we found a way to click,” Gasser said. “You just have so many different people, so many studs in high school who knew they were not going to play division one somewhere, so they came here and found this special club we have.”

The club players at Ohio State are playing because they have a chance to strap up their helmets a few more times before they hang up the cleats for good. Like varsity student-athletes, club athletes must balance their practice and competitions with schoolwork, jobs and whatever else they are involved in.

For Gasser who has been employed at the Ohio State beef and sheep facility since his sophomore year and is a full-time student, this has proven to be challenging.

“Trying to balance chores at the farm, schoolwork, and practice can be tricky at times, but you just have to grind,” Gasser said. “Find those chances to work on stuff and get it done.”

Alike his mentality on the field—playing with a high energy and passion—Gasser attributes his success on the field and the classroom to his upbringing. He believes with 100% certainty that farmers are the toughest people around.

“Everyone on this team knows I live at the OSU Beef and Sheep facility and they think I have this farm strength, farm tough attitude and that is for sure,” Gasser said. “That is what agriculture is. Whether that is physical strength or mental strength, I mean, you look at farmers, they’re the toughest people I know, and I try to carry that same mentality.”

Being the lone agricultural major on the team and clearly standing out from others with his mullet and mustache, his teammates and coaches appreciate his comfort in being himself no matter who is around.

“He embraces who he is, and he doesn’t deviate from who he is at all and I think the guys on the team appreciates that and they gravitate towards it,” Grega said. “Everybody feeds off his energy and his emotions and it is always positive.”

With a motor that never quits, hair that stands out amongst a crowd and the toughness of a farmer, Gasser wants his legacy to be one thing—a national championship.

“The first national championship in OSU club football history. That’s it. That’s what we want,” Gasser said.


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

“62 years of Christmas Tree Farming”

By Stacey Butler
agricultural communication student

In the middle of a brilliantly blue sky, the sun shined, warming the shoulders of the people hiking along the trail surrounded by enormous pine trees. The air was filled with the fresh pine aroma, as guests were greeted at the roadside shack and handed a map of the farm along with a sharp saw. People of all ages chattered and took in the sights, remarking on the vast number of trees to choose from, as they set off to find the perfect Christmas tree for their home.

Off in the distance, the putt-putt of the orange tractor could be heard making a loop around the farm, pausing so freshly cut trees can be laid on the trailer and transported back to the entrance. Seated upon the tractor, wearing a permanent smile is the owner of Hickory Ridge Tree Farm, Karl Rieppel.

Rieppel waves as he drives his tractor around his 75-acre Christmas tree farm. The final stop on his route is back at the shack where Rieppel’s sons, John and James, can be found measuring the trees and collecting payments. The high school and college age employees then take the trees to be baled in netting. Lastly, the fresh cut tree is carried and tied to the roof of the vehicle before the guests are thanked and wished “Merry Christmas” as they head for home.

Rieppel’s parents, Perry and Ruth, purchased the 60-acre farm in Alexandria, Ohio back in 1954. By 1957, they had begun planting Christmas trees in what was previously a soybean field. A few years later, Karl purchased an additional 15-acres, bringing the land total up to 75-acres.

Along the way, Rieppel earned his degree from the Ohio State University in liberal arts before joining the United States Army.

“I was active duty for two and a half years and then I was a reservist for another 30 years,” Rieppel recalls. “I was in the 32nd air defense command.”

When he completed his active duty, Rieppel earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Miami in Ohio and eventually became an educator. Rieppel built his house on the property in 1976 for his family.

“We’ve been here all our lives,” Rieppel’s son, John, said. “We’ve seen people, their kids as little babies, they’ve been coming here forever. We would start recognizing people, and they recognize you, so it’s kind of cool to be a part of their life.”

Christmas tree farming is a year-round operation for Rieppel and his family. Every spring, Rieppel begins the process of planting young saplings. Each tree will be sprayed to prevent disease and bugs from ending their young existence. Summertime includes maintaining the trees, removing dead trees, and mowing all the land.

The Christmas trees grow over the course of roughly 10 years before they are selected by a family in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Rieppel and his crew will trim and shape the trees to look iconic like those in Christmas stories. Although the farm does offer tree purchase year-round, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are by far the most popular time for tree sales.

Even with the production of fake and pre-lit Christmas trees, the choose and cut tree farms are still doing well in business. It was difficult for Rieppel to put a number on the average amount of trees they sell annually because it depends solely on the weather. Some years they sell around 1,000 trees and then in other years they can sell well over 2,000.

Hickory Ridge Tree Farm is home to six varieties of trees: Norway Spruce, Blue Spruce, Fraser Fir, White Pine, Scotch Pine and Canaan Fir. When the Rieppel’s first began selling Christmas trees it was originally a heavy market for Scotch Pines. Now the Canaan Fir, which thrives in Ohio soil, has since taken the lead.

The Canaan Fir is a genetic cross of the northern balsam fir from the northern United States and Canada and the Fraser balsam fir from the southeastern United States. The blue-green, flattish needles are a silvery color on the underside of the branches. Its fragrance is sweet and spicy like balsam and Fraser fir. Its soft lacing branches are sturdy enough to support ornaments of many sizes. Needle retention is very good for this water loving tree. (Tree Varieties, 2018)

“If we have good weather on these weekends before Christmas, we sell a lot of them,” Rieppel said. “If we don’t, then we usually sell about half.”

One thing Rieppel does regardless of tree sales is overplant. Overplanting helps ensure he has a steady supply of growing trees for the years to come. As a result, Hickory Ridge Tree Farms is notorious for its tall trees. The tallest tree they have sold so far was to a shopping center and stood 30 feet tall.

“People come here for the big ones,” Rieppel boasts. “We sell a lot of them in the 15 to 20-foot range. People come here because they know they can get them here.”

However, Rieppel is also the reason many people continue to return to his farm year after year. On December 1, Hickory Ridge Tree Farm was nothing shy of a steady flow of foot traffic. Regardless of whether it was their first time at the farm or their annual visit, every person had something kind to say about Rieppel and his farm.

“I remember my first time coming here and I didn’t know that it was cash or check,” Troy Widdis of Bexley, Ohio recalls of his first visit 15 years ago. “Mr. Rieppel just said, ‘send me a check,’ you know – the honor system, which is pretty cool.”

Widdis was searching for his own tree and was accompanied by his daughter and her boyfriend. Both houses were able to find a manageable tree to take home.

First time visitors, Sonnie and Alyssa Jones came on the recommendation of others. The family farm they had been frequenting closed when the owner passed away this year.

“There were two different families that recommended these guys [Hickory Ridge Tree Farms],” Alyssa Jones said. “So, I was like well this might be a good place. The kids love the ponds.”

Hickory Ridge Tree Farms has been the site for photography sessions and even proposals. The 75-acres houses thousands of Christmas trees, multiple ponds, deer, birds and other forest dwelling wildlife.

At the age of 76, Rieppel spoke about the future of Hickory Ridge Tree Farm. Ultimately, he hopes the farm will remain in his family for generations to come.

“It depends how long I go but I figure I’ll probably give it up in five years,” Rieppel said. “Then they’ll either maintain some of it or let it go back to forest.”

Regardless of what happens in the years to come, Rieppel is enjoying his life as a Christmas tree farmer. He spends a lot of his time tending his trees, maintaining the land, and planting for the future. His infectious grin can be spotted immediately as he comes up over the hill atop his tractor with a trailer overflowing with Christmas trees.

“My father was an engineer and a white-collar worker. I was a college teacher and a reservist, so this was a physical hobby for us,” Rieppel explains. “And it’s worked out good for me.”

Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, Hickory Ridge Tree Farm is located just two miles west of Alexandria, Ohio on State Route 37. Prices are based on the variety and height, ranging from $30 to $300 per tree.


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

“Organically cultivating an unconventional leader in agriculture”

(L-R) Chuck Crawford, Kolesen McCoy, Jeanne Gogolski and Kirk Merritt participated in a GrowNextGen workshop, which briefed leaders on how to connect STEM and agriculture education effectively.

By Courtney Heiser
agricultural communication student

A flood of emotions filled the Lucas Oil Stadium as the lights dimmed and a sea of blue cheered during the final session of the 92nd National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis. Twenty-five candidates nervously anticipated the moment they would hear their name called to serve on the 2019-2020 National FFA Organization officer team.

After the election of four regional vice presidents and the national secretary, 20 candidates remained, including Kolesen McCoy, of Springfield, Ohio, intently listening to who would be elected to serve as the organization’s national president.

McCoy patiently awaited his fate. It was now or never, all or nothing and then it happened. “Your 2019-2020 National FFA president, from the state of Ohio: Kolesen McCoy,” was called out from the podium and McCoy became the third Ohioan in history to serve as the National FFA Organization’s president.

McCoy followed an unconventional path to obtain this leadership position, but his experiences with the Global Impact STEM Academy (GISA) and GrowNextGen (GNG) have cultivated his abilities and shaped him into the young agricultural professional he is today.

The Early Years
Early in his high school career at the GISA, McCoy was approached by his agricultural education teacher with an offer to be a part of an initiative to start an FFA chapter. McCoy was struck with curiosity, as, prior to this opportunity, he had never heard of the National FFA Organization.

“The unique pathway in leadership, personal growth, and the potential careers set before me sparked a passion that has stayed with me ever since,” said Kolesen McCoy, National FFA Organization president.

In cooperation with GISA, the GNG program, funded by Ohio Soybean Farmers, has been dedicated to providing opportunities to grow the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders for the ever-changing industry that feeds the world.

“Kolesen’s willingness to try new opportunities presented to him is one attribute that has stood out to me as he has developed as a young leader,” said Rachel Sanders, FFA Advisor at GISA and teacher leader for the GNG program.

In addition to McCoy’s notable contributions to GISA’s young FFA chapter, he also served as a high school ambassador for the GNG program. As an ambassador, McCoy showcased how agriculture is a STEM-related field by helping run bio-based STEM outreach events at local elementary schools and the Clark County Fair. He also conducted activities at the GNG Booth during State FFA Convention.

Finding His Purpose
“The first trip I ever took to Farm Science Review in London, Ohio, was sponsored by GrowNextGen,” said McCoy. “It was the small but very impactful moments like these where I saw GrowNextGen invest in myself as a young agriculturist that have stood out.”

Growing up, McCoy spent time on his grandparents’ farm in northwest Ohio. He learned about machinery and common practices of a corn and soybean operation, but his immediate household was not involved in production agriculture.

“GrowNextGen served as a great vehicle for myself to become involved in the reality of agriculture in the 21st century,” said McCoy. “Becoming involved in the mission to feed the world and invest into the communities around us has completely reshaped not just my personal outlook, but my professional outlook as well.”

As McCoy became more involved with his studies of agriculture at GISA and his experiences with GrowNextGen, he connected the dots and realized his potential to make a positive impact within the agriculture industry.

“The GrowNextGen program is set apart in its focus on student success through educational outreach and resources,” said McCoy. “The practicality of its mission to grow the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders for the changing industry of agriculture will always be present as our world grows. Every resource and initiative created is done so with the intention to fulfill the mission, and GrowNextGen delivers.”

Leaving His Legacy
“Kolesen’s aspiration for new opportunities led him to new adventures that allowed him to reflect and discover his purpose,” said Sanders.

In 2017, McCoy was elected to serve as the Ohio FFA state secretary. Throughout his year of service as state secretary, he was exposed to many opportunities and experiences which enhanced his leadership abilities and passion for agriculture and serving others.

Building upon his involvement with GNG, his impact on Ohio FFA as state secretary led to his election as the 2018-2019 Ohio FFA state president and now the current National FFA president.

“What makes this organization what it is, is the people involved,” said McCoy. “The classmates beside you, the agricultural educator behind you, and the supporters all around you encouraging you every step of the way. I genuinely am thrilled to be able to be an authentic advocate for the agricultural industry, a voice for our student body at the national level, and a kind friend to all both in and out of the blue jacket.”

“Kolesen is a very genuine young man who serves for the greater good,” said Sanders. “He truly has a positive outlook on life and will make the most out of any opportunity.”

In a short three years of service to both the Ohio FFA and National FFA Organizations, McCoy has humbly left a legacy and continues to make an impact as a leader in agriculture. Through his many opportunities to serve others, McCoy has made it a priority to grow with every new experience.

McCoy also represented Ohio in the 2019 American Soybean Association Ag Voices of the Future Program. This program is designed to expose young people with a farming connection to an education on major policy issues and advocacy.

“Ultimately, what makes the greatest impact is when you seek to serve and learn from the people around you,” said McCoy. “Learning this was what catapulted my growth as a leader.”

What’s Next for McCoy?
“It was because of the programs like GrowNextGen that I became more invested in the industry of agriculture, further influencing my decision to pursue both a degree and career in agribusiness,” said McCoy.

As a second-year agribusiness student in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Science at The Ohio State University, McCoy looks forward to pursuing a career that is connected to his passion of working with people and the agriculture industry. He is interested in agribusiness management, international trade and policy, organizational leadership, public relations and education.

“Through the intentional growth of my professional network sought after in these experiences, I hope to be a sound advocate and contributor to the agricultural industry and those in the rural community,” said McCoy. “Genuinely, I can say my experience with GNG served as a catalyst for opening my eyes to the incredible diversity and unity within the agricultural industry.”

GrowNextGen is the Ohio Soybean Council’s checkoff-funded program that brings agriculture science to the classroom by providing real-world educational tools to engage the next generation workforce. GrowNextGen helps expose students to different career fields in a thriving industry. To learn more about this program and other ways GNG is preparing the next generation for careers in agriculture, visit grownextgen.org.


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

“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.

“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.

“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.

ACEL Distinguished Senior: Taylor Lutz

Taylor Lutz is an agriscience education major from Bucyrus, Ohio.

As an FFA member in high school, she loved sharing agriculture with others and knew that a career in agricultural education seemed to be a great fit, as she was passionate about teaching others about the agricultural industry.

She began her college education at Ohio State, which she feels was the best fit for her as she transitioned to college from a small high school.

Now finishing her fourth year as a Buckeye, Lutz was selected by faculty in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and leadership as one of 10 students to be named an ACEL Distinguished Senior.

“Taylor has been active in professional development in several areas of agriculture, beyond agricultural education while at both the Ohio State ATI and Columbus campuses. Taylor is active across CFAES, in AFA and was a runner up for Ms. Agriculture, all while she has maintained strong academic standing,” said ACEL faculty in her nomination.

As a student she helped start the Collegiate 4-H Club at Ohio State ATI and served as it’s vice-president. Once she transitioned to the Columbus campus she became a CFAES Ambassador and joined Collegiate Cattle Association. She also attended the annual Agricultural Future of America (AFA) Conference and served on their student advisory team her final year.

The internships and work experiences she held during college had a large impact on her future. She worked as a loss control representative for Nationwide Insurance and oversaw northern Ohio farms for the Agribusiness Risk Management division, was an education marketing intern with Valent USA LLC where she traveled across the country to talk with diverse farmers and growers to better their marketing and communications, and she worked for CFAES Marketing and Communications where she managed social media posts and created a podcast for the college.

“Each of these experiences have helped pave the path I choose after graduation,” said Lutz.

Lutz also recently completed 14-weeks of student teaching at Northmor High School and Northmor FFA. This experience gave her the in-person experience of teaching in an agricultural education program while under the supervision of a cooperating educator.

As her time as a Buckeye comes to a close, Lutz shared that although she has too many fond memories to count, some of her best ones would simply be meeting people as an ATI and CFAES ambassador and her time with AFA.

She reflects on her major, saying “Agriscience education is a great all around major. As a wise man once said, in the agriscience education major, you will learn an inch deep and mile wide worth of information about agriculture.”

Following graduation, Lutz will be pursuing a career as a high school agricultural educator, but is also open to a career in communications and marketing in the agricultural industry.

Leading activities the CFAES booth at the National FFA Convention.

Following an Ohio State victory over Michigan.

In Ireland with the CFAES Human and Animal Interactions

Speaking at AFA.

ACEL Distinguished Senior: Clinton “Gage” Smith

Gage Smith is a senior majoring in community leadership, with a specialization in community and extension education, from Racine, Ohio.

He saw the impact that community based development has on people who need empowerment, and chose to major in community leadership. He became a Buckeye because he knew Ohio State would allow him to pursue his dream of working alongside diverse communities and that CFAES believed in him and his abilities.

Now, as his time as a Buckeye comes to a close, Smith has been selected by faculty in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership as one of 10 students to be named an ACEL Distinguished Senior.

“Gage has been involved in Ohio State life and academics at many levels,” said ACEL faculty in his nomination. “He is a program assistant in OSU Extension at the Community Development state office and is the founding President of the new student organization Cultivating Change whose mission is to value and elevate LGBTQ agriculturalists through advocacy, education, and community. He is making positive change in our college.”

Throughout his time as a student, Smith has been actively engaged in student organizations on campus. He served as president of the Ohio State chapter of Cultivating Change, member and social media chair of Voyagers, treasurer and fundraising chair for Collegiate FFA at Ohio State ATI and founded the Ohio State Wooster Campus Food Pantry.

During his summers throughout college, Smith interned with an international non-profit in Ghana, West Africa. “The experiences working with subsistence farm women to promote gender equity in micro-loans and savings has guided my career goals post-graduation to pursue a career in international development and community based program planning,” he said.

One experience during his internship has become his favorite college memory, caravanning alongside bull-elephants in the Guinea Savanna in Ghana, West Africa.

In the classroom, Smith enjoyed the classes that promoted learning outside of the classroom by offering volunteer opportunities at local nonprofits in the Columbus community.

“Community leadership graduates are skilled in diverse areas of community based engagement to solve the most wicked problems effecting communities across the world,” said Smith. “ If you are passionate about equity for all, progressive social change through science-based education, and creating positive change for entire communities – then community leadership is the major for you.”

Following graduation, Smith will be pursuing a graduate degree in international development.

In Ghana, Africa during his internship.

Hanging out with Brutus in the Ohio Union.

ACEL Distinguished Senior: Brittany Weller

Brittany Weller is an agriscience education major from Bellevue, Ohio.

As an alum of a high school agricultural education and FFA, Weller recognizes the need for agricultural educators.

“As an agricultural educator, my hope is to bridge the gap between farm and consumer, and that all starts with education,” said Weller. “There are so many people in today’s society who do not know where their food comes from, and that is scary to them.”

From the first time she stepped on Ohio State’s campus, she knew there was no other option for her education, she was going to be a Buckeye!

“I remember my freshman year of high school I went to the CFAES booth [at FFA Convention], and talked to a couple CFAES ambassadors, and from that point on I was hooked. I knew that Ohio State had the best opportunities for agriscience education,” she said.

Eight years later, Weller has been selected by faculty in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership as one of 10 students to be named an ACEL Distinguished Senior.

“Brittany has been active in student organizations in CFAES, while also being a friendly face as an office worker in ACEL,” ACEL faculty noted in her nomination. “Brittany strives to maintain her strong academic standing and is passionate about caring for others and being in the ASE major. Brittany has represented OSU ASE at national professional development conferences.”

Weller just completed a 14-week student teaching experience at South Central High School agricultural education program and the South Central FFA. She is currently serving as an Ohio Teach Ag Ambassador, an opportunity that has confirmed her desire to be the in the classroom educating others. Internships with Sandusky County 4-H, Sunrise Cooperative and Ohio 4-H have also provided her with skills and lessons she will be able to apply to her teaching in the future.

She has been a member of the Poultry Judging Team, Saddle & Sirloin, Ohio Collegiate Cattle Association, Alpha Sigma Upsilon, the CFAES Banquet Committee, Agricultural Education Society and the Poultry Science Club.

In the classroom, Weller has always maintained high academics. But there was one class that she took as an elective that ended up being her favorite class from throughout her time at Ohio State.

I loved meat science with Dr. Garcia. Hands-down the best class that I took throughout college,” she said. “It wasn’t required, so I felt a little crazy for taking it because it was challenging for me, but I am so glad that I decided to do so. I learned so much in that class that I apply to both the classroom and my real life.”

Her interest in meat science also led her to being a member of the Ohio State Poultry Judging Team, following a poultry evaluation course.

“My best college memory would have to be traveling to Louisiana with my poultry judging team and placing 2nd at the contest. We had the chance to tour NOLA, eat good food, and go on a swamp tour,” she said. “It was a great trip with even better people.”

Now that her time at Ohio State is coming to an end, Weller encourages others to consider Ohio State and/or the agriscience education major because of the endless opportunities and the variety of classes.

“ACEL is also a home away from home, so being there in general is something that I enjoyed,” she said.

Following graduation, Weller plans to pursue a career as an agricultural educator in a comprehensive program, but is open to all opportunities that lie ahead.

South Central FFA’s student teacher.

At an Ohio State Football game with family.

In Italy on the Human and Animal Interactions Study Abroad.

Poultry Judging Team

Poultry Judging Team

ACEL Distinguished Senior: Marlee Stollar

Marlee Stollar is a senior studying agricultural communication from Marietta, Ohio.

Stollar grew up helping family with their agritourism farm and was a 4-H member. Both of these programs fueled her passion for agriculture. After being prompted to look into the agricultural communication major by her mom and sister, a student in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership at the time, she visited campus and knew it was the major for her.

As a senior, Stollar was selected by faculty in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and leadership as one of 10 students to be named an ACEL Distinguished Senior.

Stollar has been active in Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, serving as education chair, vice president and now president. She also was a co-chair of the CFAES Celebration of Students Banquet, a member of Towers Agricultural Honorary and their reporter and service chair, along with a sister in Alpha Sigma Upsilon.

She also completed a variety of internships with Congressman Bill Johnson, Ohio State University Extension’s Community Development office, Dairy Farmers of America, Mideast Area Office and Local Matters.

“My Local Matters and Community Development roles have helped me to better realize my passion for helping others,” said Stollar. “I hope to be the communications director of a nonprofit relating to food education and access in the future.”

Education Abroad was also a part of Stollar’s experiences at Ohio State. “I would say my best college memory was going to Brazil with Alpha Zeta partners. Specifically, I really enjoyed staying with my host family. That weekend, my best memory was visiting an agritourism-type lunch place in Brazil and getting ice cream afterwards with my host sister,” she said. She also traveled to England and Scotland with the agricultural and environmental communication program.

In the classroom, Stollar excelled in her agricultural communication courses and found that her favorite courses were both within and outside of her major. However, these courses both confirmed desire to work in nonprofit communications.

“My favorite class in the ACEL department was publication design and production with Dr. Specht,” said Stollar. “I learned so much about the basics of design, which has helped me so much in internships and jobs. One of my favorite parts about the class was learning more about fonts. Fun fact–my favorite font is Avenir!”

“Another class I really enjoyed was in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations. I learned so much about the importance of nonprofits in our world today, and all of the materials were relevant and interesting. It has also further developed my passion for food access and education,” she said.

When asked why someone should consider the agricultural communication major at Ohio State, Stollar shared “Agricultural communication gives students the tools to succeed in the communication field. You learn to improve your writing, as well as your design and photography skills. The professors are very helpful as well–they are always there to assist you if you need it. I would tell students to choose ag comm to be best prepared for communication in the agricultural industry.”

Following graduation, Stollar will enroll in graduate school at Ohio State where she will work towards a master’s degree in agricultural communication.


Marlee and a jersey cow at the Waterman Ag and Natural Resources Laboratory during ACT’s annual Farmers Share.

With Meredith, comparing photos during a study abroad trip.

Recruiting new ACT members at the annual CFAES Back to School Bash.

On the CFAES Agricultural and Environmental Communication study abroad program in England and Scotland.