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Texas A&M Citrus Center internships open doors for new class of TSTC biology students

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A new cohort of TSTC biology students will gain lab experience and skills during an internship at the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Citrus Center. (Photo courtesy of TSTC.)

Texas Border Business

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(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Texas State Technical College biology students have the chance to cultivate their lab skills in an internship at the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Citrus Center that restarted last week following a hiatus due to the pandemic.

As the interns help identify invasive species or pathogens in plant samples sent to them from across the state of Texas, they will also have the opportunity to rub elbows with Texas A&M graduate students and faculty, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service staff members.

“Students that are accepted into the internship program will be taken under the wing of one of the faculty members or an employee of the USDA and do a research project in their lab,” said Jena Campbell, an academic science instructor at TSTC.

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Previous projects have ranged from plant pathology to bioinformatics and genetic manipulation — and much more.

“The research that they do there has great importations on the agriculture arena throughout the world — not just in the state of Texas,” said Paul Leonard, TSTC associate professor of academic science. “It’s well known for discovering pathogens — especially fungal pathogens and things like that.”

The experience makes for an ideal setting to learn — and open the doors to future career paths.

Students who have previously completed this internship, bachelor’s degrees at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and graduate or medical school have gone on to work for the USDA in Washington, D.C., Baylor Medical School, MD Anderson and more, Campbell said.

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The paid, part-time internship may be focused on plants, but it aims to give students general — and valuable — lab experience and skills that can be applied to any area of focus.

“We have a wide variety of biology students that have a wide variety of career goals,” Campbell said. “The lab experiences that they learn there can serve them in any scientific career discipline that they’d like to go into.”

Upon completion of the 12-week internship, any student who transfers to Texas A&M University-Kingsville to continue a four-year degree will receive a $1,500 scholarship.

Though AgriLife estimates that the Texas citrus industry took a $230 million hit after this year’s historic freeze, the center in Kingsville still has healthy trees. Campbell and Leonard visited following the wintry weather.

“As we left the complex, we were talking,” Leonard said. “This is really going to give those students that are selected for these internships probably their first exposure to real-life application of what they are studying — and not just strictly textbook and classroom. The real essence of the job.”

While this internship experience normally takes place during the summer, COVID-19 delayed last year’s program. However, the grants that make the internship possible have been extended, and the internship will accept a new cohort of applicants in the fall.

The internship is open to TSTC students only. Anyone interested in applying should contact Campbell, Leonard or TSTC academic science instructor Michael Gay.

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