Practice makes perfect: SC State students win big with hard work

Friday, May 3, 2013

Long hours of practice has proved rewarding for three SC State University students who won top awards at a national research competition.

Senior biology major Kayland Huckaby and juniors, Jessica Johnson, a biology major, and Nkemakonam Okoye, a chemistry major with a concentration in radiochemistry, competed for and won awards in the research presentation competition at the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) 28th Annual Career Fair and Training Conference. The event was held March 21-23 in Sacramento, Calif.

Huckaby won second place in the Division 1 undergraduate oral presentation for “Effects of Acetic Acid on the Growth of Foodborne Pathogen,” a study that examines how acetic acid affects the growth of E. coli on beef products.
Okoye took third place in the same category for his presentation, “Scintillation Efficiencies of Various Boron-Loaded Scintillators,” a multi-state project in which researchers are synthesizing a new group of “plastics” that may be useful in detecting the nuclear materials that are used to construct nuclear bombs.   Johnson came in second place in the Division 1 undergraduate poster presentation for “Effects of Lactic Acid in the Inhibition of E. coli Growth,” a study which seeks to determine the antimicrobial effects of the probiotic byproduct in E. coli.

The success of winning, especially for Huckaby and Okoye, was gratifying for the two who had much to prove to themselves. 

“I saw the MANRRS competition as a means to redeem myself,” said Huckaby. The previous December, Huckaby did not perform well at another competition as she expected.

“It meant a lot to me when I won at MANRRS, because I knew all along that I could do better,” said the Petersburg, Va. native.
Okoye shared a similar sentiment. This was his second time presenting at MANRRS. He did not place at his first competition.

“Although, I did not win [at the first MANRRS conference that he attended], I worked to improve on my weak points, my public speaking skills. When I learned that I won this year, I was happy because it showed that my public speaking skills had improved,” said Okoye, whose hometown is Anambara, Nigeria.

The win, however, for Johnson had an even greater meaning, one that championed the achievements of SC State.
“A lot of people underestimate South Carolina State, but when we go to conferences and meetings, like MANRRS to compete, we [SC State students] do extremely well. We always represent SC State in a very prestigious manner,” said Johnson who calls Atlanta, Ga. home.

SC State’s 1890 Research Program sponsors the on-campus student organization. Dr. Christopher C. Mathis, senior research director of the 1890 Research Center for Agricultural Systems, Food Production, Safety and Security, serves as the chapter’s advisor. As the founding advisor of the SC State chapter and a former member of the first MANRRS chapter in the nation, Michigan State University, Mathis is proud of the students’ accomplishments.

“The majority of the students who competed are new members. Their success speaks volumes to the effort they put forth to achieve such great accomplishments on a national level. Needless to say, this was indeed a major confidence booster for the students who won. All the members who attended represented the university superbly and were exceptional ambassadors for SC State,” said Mathis.

Additional students who attended the conference were: biology majors, Boaz Bett and Adisa Julien; agribusiness majors, Johnny Wilson, Joshua Smith and Ricardo Murray; and graduate students, Keena Wilson, counselor education, and Santana Smiling, individual and family development.

Aside from the competition, the national conference serves as a networking and professional development forum, attracting more than 1,200 students, recruiters and other professionals in agriculture and natural resources, said 1890 Research Administrator Dr. Louis Whitesides.

“The 1890 Research Program is pleased to support professional development opportunities for SC State students who have selected or shown interest in agriculture-related careers. We know that through the support provided, the next generation of leaders in agriculture and natural resources careers are being well prepared.”

MANRRS, a national society that promotes academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agriculture, natural resources and related sciences, has over 70 chapters in 38 states and Puerto Rico.