The Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences graduate student organization Association for Crop and Soil (ACRS) works to provide crop and soil graduate students with social and professional support.
Created in October 2015 by graduate student Mike Swoish, the organization began as an opportunity for graduate students in crop and soil sciences to connect with other graduate students, faculty and future employers.
With the intention of increasing social involvement within the graduate programs, the organization holds happy hours, meetups, new student welcoming parties, a booth at Plant Science Recruitment Week and after-school socials.
“We are trying to take all of the good energy and excellence in the community and focus it and get more people involved,” Kyle McCarthy, ACRS officer and wheat breeding graduate student, said.
In 2015, an ACRS social meeting averaged three to four students, but increased to an average of 15-20 students in 2016.
Currently, ACRS is exploring more professional development in addition to social development.
“Our role is not only to get people out and engaged, but we want to try and facilitate things that aren’t emphasized in graduate school, such as becoming a leader,” McCarthy said. “Because we are going to graduate with an advanced degree, we are going to be in a managerial position, so having competency in that is really underemphasized.”
With the priority to mobilize the crop and soil graduate community, another main focus of the organization is to get new graduate students involved in the PSM community.
“We made a concerted effort to contact those students multiple times personally to invite them to activities or to find people in the department that might have similar interests,” Natalie Kirkwyland, ACRS officer and potato and breeding genetics graduate student, said.
ACRS was heavily involved in the Plant Science Recruitment Weekend. The organization provided students with a comprehensive guide to graduate students’ social lives and professional development opportunities.
Within PSM, there are multiple graduate student organizations. ACRS is currently working with those other organizations to utilize some of their resources.
The Student Phytopathological Organization for Research and Education (SPORE) serves as a network of support for Plant Pathology students in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences.
In addition to being a resource for students within plant pathology, SPORE organizes events with students from other areas of study in PSM. The multi-faceted organization works as a tool to help new graduate students meet other students in their college and to introduce them to students in other labs.
“Recently, [SPORE’s goal] has been to help the plant pathology graduate students in different labs get to know each other,” Irene Donne, vegetable pathology graduate student said.
For Donne, going to the SPORE social events before starting her program helped her get acquainted with other people in her lab and other labs.
The members of SPORE have a variety of activities for students and faculty to take part in—past activities have included bowling, annual picnic and poster session, a Pi Day party, Weenie roast (hot dog roast) and a pumpkin sale. With most of the plant pathology students in SPORE, social events typically average 10 to 20 students.
Every fall, SPORE members organize their largest event during the annual pumpkin sale in an effort to fundraise for PSM. Another effort to fundraise for SPORE is to sell Plant Pathology designed T-shirts. Usually graduate students, faculty and their families purchase T-shirts and support SPORE.
The student-faculty relationship has been another essential part of the student organization. SPORE members meet with PSM professors to ensure there is communication between students and teachers. Graduate students’ main topic of discussion with faculty is over scheduling courses. SPORE works with the faculty to organize classes in a way that works best for its students.“There’s only a set amount of time we have to take classes,” Steere said.