Where Science and Agriculture Intersect: Life Sciences Quest 2023

Life Sciences Quest gave high schoolers from across Missouri the opportunity to preview CAFNR's scientific opportunities

Life Sciences Quest 2023 was held July 9-13 in partnership with the Missouri Department of Agriculture to help high school students learn about the intersection of science careers and agriculture in our daily lives.

Rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors participated in University of Missouri research farm tours, hands-on lab activities, and professional panel discussions during the four-day camp.

Students mixed flavoring in the food science program, assayed proteins in the biochemistry lab, and got to further explore post-graduate and career possibilities by hearing from panels of agriculture and science professionals in addition to representatives from the Mizzou medical and law schools.

“It’s much more of a hands-on and backstage experience and comprehensive view of CAFNR than the students would get on a normal campus visit,” said Kathleen Matz, CAFNR director of student recruitment and events.

“A lot of the students are not from an agricultural background,” said Shari Freyermuth, assistant dean of academic programs. “They’re interested in the sciences, and we can show them how that intersects with agriculture.”

This year’s academy had more students from an agricultural background than usual, and the learning goes both ways. Several students at this year’s camp have completed other agricultural camps CAFNR and FFA offer, and were excited to meet new people from different, more urban backgrounds than themselves.

Life Sciences Quest has been held since 2006 and has impacted many students who may not have considered Mizzou before their experience as a camper.

“Coming from a large city environment, Life Sciences Quest opened my eyes to a world of science I hadn’t really considered before,” said Kathryn Wenger, junior biochemistry student from Wildwood, Missouri. Wenger participated in Life Sciences Quest as a high school student and this year served as a counselor for the camp.

“Before coming to the camp, I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, but I found the biochemistry lab and material [at Life Sciences Quest] pretty interesting. I also really liked the biochemistry faculty I met at Life Sciences Quest, including Dr. Freyermuth, who is now my academic advisor.”

Both of Wenger’s parents attended Mizzou, and before attending Life Sciences Quest she had already decided she wanted to attend a different university.

“The camp made me realize that it’s different than what it was in my head. There are a lot of different opportunities that Mizzou can offer and it’s a great school for undergraduate research in science and medicine.”

Wenger now works in the NextGen lab of Ai-Ling Lin, assisting with research related to the gut microbiome and Alzheimer’s. She has enjoyed helping campers find their passions during Life Science Quest, just like she found hers.

For former Life Sciences Quest camper and now biochemistry graduate Heather Shipley, the camp was a turning point in her college search. She had no interest in going to Mizzou or even attending the camp, but her older brother encouraged her to apply.

“CAFNR was one of the first academic environments I had even been in where I felt respected and cared for,” said Shipley. “Then I knew if I was going to come to Mizzou I had to be in CAFNR, and that led me to biochemistry. I fully don’t think I could have completed this degree had it been in a different college or at a different university, because CAFNR has such a great support system.”

Shipley’s Life Sciences Quest experience also introduced her to undergraduate research opportunities and gave her introductory lab experience other applicants to her undergraduate research program at the MU Research Reactor hadn’t yet received.

Matz also emphasized the opportunity students receive at the camp to ask Mizzou faculty and their Mizzou student counselors other questions about their future college experiences.

“Just getting to show them that it’s not as expensive as you think and the community and opportunities you can have is important,” Matz said. “They get the opportunity to connect with their counselors and kind of think ‘Oh, Kathryn is cool and has had a lot of cool experiences; I want to come here and be like her.’”

“It was a lot more fun than I expected it to be because I’ve never done anything with agriculture before,” said 2023 Life Sciences Quest camper and rising junior at Chaminade College Preparatory School, Luke Koenig. “But the whole experience of learning about the crops we grow, the standards and regulations they have, GMOs, other modifications, was interesting. I also never knew anything about swine or equine farms, so that was a cool new experience for me. This also gave me a good basis of what the living experience will be like at college; living in the dorms with other people, and the panels of agriculture experts and the people from the medicine and law schools were also helpful since I’m not quite sure what I want to do in the future.”

Photographs from the event can be found at: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAMPVH .