In every classroom, laboratory, and office in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, you will find talented, dedicated people who are seeking to improve our world. I am pleased to share with you some of their stories.
– Shane C. Burgess, Vice President & Charles-Sander Dean
University of Arizona senior Jackie Kondkhorov remembers her freshman orientation as being, well, disorienting.
Kondkhorov, who is from Boston, Mass., had enrolled in the UA sight-unseen on the advice of a family friend. Her first visit to campus left her wondering what she’d gotten herself into.
“My mom and I went to orientation and there’s a million people and there were these big Wildcat mascots and they were dancing around,” Kondkhorov said. “Plus, it was June and it was super-hot. We were like, ‘Where are we?’ But it was baby steps, and everything turned out fine.”
Rather than being intimidated, Kondkhorov, a first-generation student, set out to conquer campus. Now, she is an agriculture technology management major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a CALS Ambassador, and belongs to several clubs, including the Arizona Surfers.
“I’m a very curious person,” she said. “I try to do and figure it all out for myself.”
Kondkhorov began her academic career with an undeclared major, something she did on purpose to be able to explore different fields. She scheduled visits with professors from numerous departments, leading her to an appointment with Quintin Molina, an associate professor in the agricultural education department. He explained the wide array of academic offerings and career paths in CALS.
“Right then and there I had this click—all right, sign me up, this is so awesome,” Kondkhorov said. “It was the combination of animal sciences and plant sciences and a little bit of the business side and it sounded like exactly what I wanted to do.”
It was another brand-new situation. Growing up in the urban Northeast, she had no agricultural background except childhood visits to farms. “Students here tell me they were in FFA or 4-H and we didn’t have that,” she said, but she’s not surprised by where she ended up.
“I feel that the biggest challenge for Jackie was learning that her lack of agriculture-related background was not a hindrance to her personal success,” Molina said. “She is an excellent example of the fact that students of diverse backgrounds can be wildly successful within our college, and that their success is not dependent upon an ag background.”
Summer in Israel
Kondkhorov spent the summer of 2018 at an internship with a precision ag startup company in Tel Aviv, Israel, called Taranis, which uses drone technology to prevent crop yield loss. She worked as an analyst, viewing images of crops to identify problems like disease, chemical injury, and insect damage.
“Technology, research, development—everything is happening in Israel,” Kondkhorov said. “There was so much to do and see.”
The professional aspect was just one part of a larger experience. She lived in Jerusalem, which required a 90-minute commute each way on two buses to get to her office. Kondkhorov had been to Israel three times visiting family before her internship, but this time was different. The daily trip into Tel Aviv took her past farm fields and gave her “time to reflect.” On weekends, she explored the country, checking out beaches, the desert, and the metropolitan areas.
“It was a jam-packed summer,” she said.
CALS Ambassador and mentor
Kondkhorov joined CALS Ambassadors because she believes it’s important to share her knowledge and experience, especially with first-generation students or any students who might need help or guidance.
The CALS Ambassador program is a competitive leadership program in the college that emphasizes professionalism, intrapersonal and organizational skills. It celebrated its 25th year in 2018-19.
“My freshman year, I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Kondkhorov, who will graduate in spring 2019 and is looking at careers in agribusiness. “I had to find my own way. But being here and being a CALS Ambassador, I can say, ‘I’ve been there, I can help you.’ I stay in touch with a few of the students I’ve met on tours, and we’ll go for coffee and catch up and I’ll ask how their first semester is going.”
Her main piece of advice to CALS freshmen: “You’re in the right place.”
University of Arizona freshman Antonio Camacho-Hernandez discovered his professional calling after rushing into a situation most people try to avoid.
Camacho-Hernandez was spending the summer before his senior year of high school shadowing his aunt, an ER doctor, at a hospital in Texas. He was helping with some paperwork one day when a bell sounded for a “code blue” emergency. Camacho-Hernandez followed his aunt into a room that soon filled with more than 30 doctors and nurses working to save the patient’s life.
“It was crazy and overwhelming but eye-opening,” Camacho-Hernandez recalled. “It’s something that will always stick with me, because I wanted to be able to help but couldn’t. It made me realize what I want to do.”
The experience helped Camacho-Hernandez decide to major in microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His goal is to continue to medical school and become an ER doctor; in the meantime, he plans on joining the campus EMS (emergency medical services) program.
“In the ER, you’re actually with the patient, calming them down, helping them out,” said Camacho-Hernandez, who also did an internship in the cardiovascular ICU at Banner University Medical Center during his senior year at Cienega High School in Vail, Ariz. “It’s the most immediate way to help people there is.”
Motivated by KEYS Internship
This past summer, Camacho-Hernandez was selected to participate in a UA BIO5 Institute KEYS Research Internship. He worked in Dr. Kristen Limesand’s lab in the nutritional sciences department, helping her team find a cure for post-chemoradiation dry mouth in head-and-neck cancer patients.
The lab environment was completely different from the chaos and tension of the emergency room or ICU, but the research and time management skills he developed were invaluable.
“The internship was good for a lot of reasons but the biggest one was motivation,” Camacho-Hernandez said. “It was exhausting, and you’d think you wouldn’t want to do it anymore, but it really just pushes you. I was able to produce maybe three times more what I thought I’d be able to do.”
Camacho-Hernandez said the first week of the KEYS (Keep Engaging Youth in Science) Internship is called training week, when participants go through a rigorous program designed to familiarize them with basic lab techniques. It also required nightly homework, meaning the interns sometimes had 16-hour days.
“The students liked to call it hell week,” Camacho-Hernandez said.
Once he settled into his project in the Limesand Lab, Camacho-Hernandez found the work “very satisfying.”
“I didn’t know what to expect going in there; I had a general idea and knew I wanted to be in a lab,” he said. “My main interest was medicine, and I was able to do something relative to it. Basically, the lab is looking to restore the salivary gland function in post-radiation therapy patients, to restore damage.”
Limesand has been involved with the Keys Internship Program for a decade, and hopes that students—who are either entering their senior year of high school or freshman year of college—can find out if they enjoy research while also having some fun.
“They’re giving up their summer,” Limesand said. “You want them to gain something out of it. I think for Antonio, he came in very excited about doing the work and through the seven weeks, he became more patient to work to the end; he (realized), ‘It’s OK to slow down for a moment and take it all in and think about what you’re doing.’”
From micro to music
When Camacho-Hernandez isn’t in a lab or learning about microorganisms, he’s using a completely different part of his brain. An accomplished piano and trumpet player, he is minoring in music.
Camacho-Hernandez’ favorite composer is Chopin, whose challenging piece “Fantasie-Impromptu” he played for one of his first recitals in the UA music program.
“My parents have had me in piano lessons since I was 7, so music seemed like the most logical thing to do,” he said. “It seems like it would make no sense but it’s something I always want to do. I use music as a buffer from all my other classes. It’s a stress reliever, not a stress inducer.”
Dr. Stock earned her B.S. in Biology (emphasis in Zoology) and her Ph.D. in Natural Sciences (emphasis in Parasitology and Nematology) at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina. At the University of Arizona, she is currently the Interim Director for the School of Animal & Comparative Biomedical Sciences (ACBS), as well as a professor of Entomology, ACBS, and Plant Sciences.
As of late, Dr. Stock received the Founders' Lecturer Award from The Society of Invertebrate Pathology, which is awarded in recognition of an outstanding and seminal contribution to a field of research within the general discipline of invertebrate pathology.
Dr. Melanie Hingle is a nutrition scientist, public health researcher, and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with over 15 years of training and experience in health promotion and behavioral sciences, assessment of dietary intake and physical activity, and the design and conduct of studies focused on health behavior change and metabolic disease prevention in children and families. Her postdoctoral training in behavioral nutrition included the application of behavioral theory and formative research methodologies to inform the design and conduct of behavior change interventions. Dr. Hingle’s research program is focused on understanding how and why diet and physical activity behaviors are initiated and sustained, and the application of this knowledge to development of effective approaches to motivating health behavior change in youth.
Dr. Hingle was recently announced as an Udall Fellowship recipient. She will use her time as a fellow to develop a model of diet-sensitive disease prevention for food insecure populations in partnership with colleagues at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and El Rio Community Health Center. The resulting program will be designed for sustainable delivery to individuals at risk of type 2 diabetes within the context of existing services offered by these organizations. The proposed work will contribute to building a “culture of health” in southern Arizona, in which adequate and nutritious food are mainstays across geographic, demographic, and social sectors, and all Arizonans have the opportunity to make healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices consistent with their beliefs, customs and core values.
David Breshears, a professor of natural resources in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is one of the world's foremost authorities on understanding the root cause of tree deaths, which are occurring on a massive scale. Breshears has played a central role in identifying, diagnosing and communicating this threat on different ecosystems to a broad audience. In particular, he has detailed the degree to which loss of trees is due to a lack of sufficient water and exacerbated by the rise in temperatures. He has also played a multitude of leadership roles across the nation, including as an acclaimed teacher, mentor and scientist, as well as for the Ecological Society of America, the National Ecological Observatory Network, and the National Phenology Network. His major contributions include to interdisciplinary research include the UA's Critical Zone Observatory project, which focuses on the interface of geology and biology. For his work in academia, Breshears has also been elected a 2018 Regents' Professor by the Arizona Board of Regents.