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REU in the Blue Ridge Mountains: Examining Phosphorus Flow

In part 3 of our series about the STEPS Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer program, we are excited to feature scholars working at Appalachian State University. REU scholars Elianna Tenace, from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL, and Bella Banka, from the University of Colorado—Boulder, are working with Dr. Anne Fanatico, STEPS advisor, and Dr. Matthew Ogwu, a Theme 2 researcher with a focus on integrated ecology and sustainable development. Together, this team is researching phosphorus flow in Boone, NC. The team focuses on soil microbes and developing other projects related to understanding the genes present in the soil that may impact phosphorus metabolism. 

What’s a typical week like for these scholars in the high country? Banka and Tenace are busy with garden harvesting, data mining, and fieldwork, including collecting food waste from local restaurants. Soon, they will begin DNA extraction from the food collected locally and look for phosphorus-related microorganisms. The scholars also volunteer with food-oriented community organizations. 

Elianna Tenace holding a baby goat from Heritage Homestead in Boone, NC. Photo courtesy Elianna Tenace.

When asked what the REU program has taught her, Bella Banka said, “the complex issues surrounding phosphorus sustainability” as well as the approaches science is taking to procure solutions. Overall, Banka reflected that the most unexpected and powerful skills she’s learned thus far include effective communication and autonomous time management. These skills developed through the REU experience make her feel more prepared for her future and to achieve her goal of doing research and collaborating with community farmers. Banka has also enjoyed Boone’s climbing areas such as Grayson Heights, where she’s gone hiking and camping. 

For Elianna Tenace, the REU program has allowed her to connect with people and have discussions around research topics that inspire her. Tenace has learned how it feels to do research, as well as so much more about the farming process, phosphorus, and plants. Overall, Tenace feels the REU program has prepared her for her potential future in higher education due to the connections she’s made with “innovative thinkers including researchers, farmers, and fellow students.” 

Taken at Laughing Springs Farm, run by App State adjunct professor, Dr. Jay Bost. Scholar Bella Banka learned about plant breeding and the proper way to pick up a chicken. Photo courtesy Bella Banka.

To learn more about the REU program, visit our REU page.