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REU in the Florida Everglades: Soil, Rice, and Delicious Mangoes

In Part 2 of our series about the STEPS Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, we are excited to feature scholars at our University of Florida (UF) Triple-Bottom Line site. This summer, two REU Scholars, Gisella Magana and Brenna Dold, are working with Dr. Jango Bhadha, Assistant Professor in Soil and Water Sciences and Theme 2—Human Scale PI. They are investigating pre-flooding soil before planting rice to see if there is a difference in phosphorus (P) availability and nutrient uptake. Their research involves measuring the amount of total P and available P for plant uptake. 

What’s it like to be an REU scholar in the Florida Everglades? A typical day for these scholars at UF’s Everglades Education and Research Center includes weighing samples, performing analyses, and collecting outdoor samples with a Ph.D. student or extension agent. Each scholar does these tasks for their individual research projects and assists other members of the lab as well. Additionally, they attend weekly meetings on a range of topics including career development, guest speakers, and convergence research. 

Dold (left) and Magana (right) working with samples in the lab. Photo courtesy Giselle Magana.

Magana and Dold have just finished day 30 of pre-flooding the soil and are now ready to plant after calculating some variables. 

Giselle Magana, REU scholar from the University of Redlands, says the REU program has already taught her so much, including how to extract phosphorus from the soil, as well as the importance of “convergence and being able to work in a team setting with collaborators from different disciplines.” Furthermore, Magana says this program has taught her the importance of communicating effectively in a scientific field. Brenna Dold, REU scholar from STEPS partner institution Appalachian State University, enjoys the constant support REU scholars are provided. Dold shared that “the STEPS faculty are always so willing to share their research and help you.” Dold has also enjoyed the plentiful free mangoes from the area.

Both scholars believe this opportunity has prepared them for their futures. Dold shared that she is now “more knowledgeable about how different analyses work” and can apply this to her research in the future. Currently, Dold is on the PhD-MD track, and “learning about P sustainability” has caused her to adjust her research interests in that direction. Similarly, Magana feels prepared to obtain her Master’s degree or Ph.D. after being introduced to the lifestyle of a graduate researcher. Magana says this program has “opened a new field of study for me, and it has educated me on the phosphorus sustainability issue and how scientists are currently addressing this issue now.” 

Dold and Magana collecting samples with other lab members. Photo courtesy Giselle Magana.

These scholars will finish their program at the University of Florida in August and return to their home universities to share their STEPS research experience with their professors and classmates.

To catch up on the series following the REU scholars at different schools, see  To learn more about the STEPS REU program, visit  

Magana (L) and Dold (R) preparing to go out in the field. The REU has been a great experience to learn more about graduate research. Photo courtesy Brenna Dold.