Students gain entrepreneurial experience through the Harbaugh Assistant program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– Several undergraduates at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have the big picture to take research from the lab to the marketplace with a unique opportunity offered by the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program at middle School.

The Harbaugh Undergraduate Research Assistantship, funded by Earl Harbaugh, a 1961 college alumnus, and his wife, Kay, pairs undergraduate students with faculty working on research with commercial potential.

The goal is to provide students with mentorship and hands-on experience to advance research in practice, according to Mark Gagnon, Harbaugh Entrepreneur and Innovation Faculty scholar.

“We seek to engage, develop and empower tomorrow’s innovators in agricultural science,” said Gagnon. “This mentor-led experience helps students not only broaden their scientific skills, but also understand the processes involved in bringing advanced technology to market, which is the crux of commercialization.”

Students are mentored on relevant entrepreneurship and marketing issues, such as intellectual property, product development, professional communication, business models, and pitching ideas to potential investors.

“It takes a special student to engage in research as an undergraduate, and these undergraduates excel because of the extra mentorship that comes with the Harbaugh program,” said Gagnon.

One such student is Maria Schultheis of Connellsville, a fourth year animal science student. She worked in the research laboratory of Gino Lorenzoni, Assistant Professor of Poultry Science and Avian Health, for the past year.

One of Lorenzoni’s studies focuses on the prevention of avian necrotic enteritis, a bacterial disease that causes lesions in the digestive tract of chickens. The disease has a high death rate and is responsible for economic losses of nearly $ 6 billion worldwide, according to Schultheis.

“Antibiotics have been used to control disease, but antibiotic resistance is a growing concern, and consumers don’t want antibiotics in their meat,” said the first-generation student. “One solution is to find efficient and affordable alternatives for poultry producers. “

Schultheis said Lorenzoni’s work aims to address the problem by developing a feed that can reduce symptoms of the disease, reduce mortality and increase the growth performance of infected broilers. The team is pursuing a provisional patent on the technology.

Schultheis began her college career at the Penn State Fayette campus, where she said she was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work in the lab of Julio Palma, assistant professor of chemistry, where she helped la research into how amino acids and gold atoms can be used as electronic components in photovoltaic technology to create a more efficient solar panel.

During breaks on campus, she works as a room assistant at Animal Medical Center in Somerset under the mentorship of veterinarian and Penn State alumnus Vincent Svonavec. Her future career goal is to become a veterinarian and operate her own veterinary clinic.

Schultheis said these experiences, along with the knowledge she gains through Harbaugh’s undergraduate research assistant program, position her to achieve this goal.

“Through this assistant, I learned to turn research into something that can be applied in the real world,” she said. “I am also developing skills that will be invaluable when I start a business one day. I am grateful for the incredible opportunities that have come my way through college and Penn State. “

Looking to the future, Gagnon and his colleague Maria Spencer, John and Patty Warehime Entrepreneurs in Residence, plan to match more exceptional undergraduates with innovative faculty who benefit from student contributions.

“Thanks to the generosity of Earl and Kay Harbaugh, we can continue to serve students and faculty in this way,” said Spencer. “In a few years we may have students who can point their fingers at the products in the market and say, ‘I’m one of them.

Established in 2013, the College of Agricultural Sciences Entrepreneurship and Innovation program adds value to new ideas and research discoveries by encouraging entrepreneurship among students and faculty.

As part of Invent Penn State, a statewide initiative to foster job creation, economic development and student career success by connecting students and university researchers with people that can help bring their products and services to market, the program sponsors a college minor, a start-up competition for students, and the Competitive Research Applications for Innovation grant program, or RAIN.

More information about the Harbaugh Undergraduate Research Assistant is available online.

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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