April 17, 2007

Agriculture students capture national honors

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Two students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale's newly chartered campus chapter of National Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences attended the organization's convention last month in Birmingham, Ala., and walked away with first and third places in national competition.

Chapter President Maurice C. Allen, a first-year master's student in agribusiness economics, took first place in impromptu speaking, while Vice President Jean N. Porter, a second-year master's student in plant, soil and agricultural systems, placed third in graduate oral research. The two winners were among six student researchers sent to the competition by the chapter, which received its charter late last year.

Dexter B. Wakefield, assistant professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems and the chapter's adviser, sat through every one of their presentations.

"These students were all extremely prepared, and they know how to maintain a positive mental attitude in stressful times," he said.

"I saw other major research schools such as Purdue, Missouri, Ohio State and Cal Poly try to question our students' research, but ours were so up on their subjects they really came through."

Allen, a native of Roxie, Miss., is doing research on the development of broadband availability for rural and lower income areas. He earned his undergraduate degree in 2006 from Alcorn State University outside Lorman, Miss. He is the son of Tommy Lee Allen and Roxie resident Cassandra Allen (6184 Highway 33 S.).

Porter, who grew up in Petersburg, Va., has done research on the future of biotechnology education in Illinois, with particular emphasis on agriculture teachers. She earned her undergraduate degree in 2005 from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. She is the daughter of Petersburg residents William H. Porter III (507 Clinton St.) and Bertha M. Porter (1028 S. Park Drive) and the granddaughter of Rocky Mount, Va., resident Russell McEnhimer (50 Emmas Road).

Wakefield, who served as the organization's national president when he was in graduate school, has been interested in having a chapter on campus since he arrived in 2001.

"We had a lot of support for this organization, both from Dean (Gary L.) Minish and (former) Dean (W. David) Shoup," Wakefield said.

"It just took some time for me to get it started."

Since November, the chapter has enrolled 12 charter members, held fundraisers and participated in community service activities. Over the next year, the group plans to recruit more members and create a junior chapter in East St. Louis.