Agricultural melting pot

<p>Wei Dong, a plant biologist at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, works in one of the labs last week.</p>

Silvia Rondon, an entomologist and assistant professor at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, thinks for scientists to continue making advancements in their areas of study, traveling and researching abroad is key. Rondon, who hails from Peru, recently returned to Hermiston after a six-month sabbatical in France, where she studied how insects are attracted to plants based on the chemicals they release into the atmosphere.

Rondon said the experience not only allowed her to expand upon her research, but It is crucial to experience how the rest of the world operates in order to advance research.

She said her broad educational experience is important to herself and to the research that she contributes to Oregon State University through the extension center with a number of scientists with backgrounds just as diverse as hers.

Out of 29 full-time staff members, the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension center employs six international researchers who are mainly working to complete multiple-year projects. They hail from Peru, France, India, China and Pakistan.

“It is very diverse,” Rondon said. “You need that diversity. Everybody brings a different perspective and experience.”

Station director Phil Hamm said administrators strive to hire the best of the best at the extension center, and the best candidates don’t always hail from the United States.

“Some of the best people that apply are from somewhere else,” he said.

Hamm said he believes having a diverse group of employees from all over the world provides more opportunities for the center than it would otherwise have if everyone was from the United States. Like Rondon, Hamm said he believes it is important for researchers to explore international opportunities because it benefits everyone.

He said researchers usually build collaborative relationships with one another, which they share for the rest of their careers. He said those relationships remain even if an international researcher decides to return to his or her home country. Both scientists, he said, usually continue to collaborate with one another on future projects, which spreads knowledge and research advancements on a world-wide basis, leading to progress in the agricultural industry, he said.

Hamm said international researchers may also bring a unique and fresh take on a solution to a problem. He said a good example is when he invited a friend of his from Canada out to the extension center and she was able to help identify a pepper virus that was stymying HAREC researchers. He said she suggested it was a particular virus that she had seen in peppers up in Canada.

“With the suggestion, we were able to follow up on it, and, sure enough, that was what it was,” he said.

At the same time, Hamm said international researchers are also able to learn from their U.S. counterparts.

Wei Dong, a plant biology and genetics post-doctoral scholar, who is from China, said she wanted to obtain a research position in an English-speaking country because she didn’t have many opportunities to speak English in China.

Dong said since she has moved to Hermiston, her English has dramatically improved, which will help her on future projects. She said English is one language that people from most countries can use to communicate.

“If you want to talk more and work with other people, then you have to develop your English,” she said.

Dong said working at the extension center in Hermiston has also expanded her knowledge of plant biology and genetics. She said working at the center has allowed her to grow much more than if she had stayed in China because she can experiment and be more creative in her field.

Sagar Sathuvalli, a potato breeding and genetics specialist and assistant professor at the center, is from India. He said he came to Oregon State University because he knew it had a strong program in plant breeding and genetics. Working at the extension center, he said, just takes that experience a step forward in the right direction.

He said prior to coming to the Hermiston extension center a year ago, he had never worked with potatoes, but had a great deal of experience in horticulture. Since coming here, he said he has worked with local growers, extension center stakeholders and many others who have helped him develop his knowledge of potato genetics. Those same people have also been crucial in funding his research.

“My research wouldn’t be possible without them,” he said. “I get the chance to talk with many people in the potato industry.

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