Ayiana James was a summer intern for Project WiCCED at UD in 2021. The research and professional development skills she learned in the internship helped James enroll as a master’s student in animal science at UD this fall, with a teaching assistantship that covers her tuition and provides a stipend for living expenses.

Project WiCCED is a multi-institution project in partnership with the National Science Foundation and the State of Delaware aimed at assessing major threats to Delaware’s water quality and developing viable solutions to meet those challenges. Project WiCCED summer interns participate in professional development activities to help get students ready for the next phase of their scientific career.

In summer 2021, James studied parasites in horses and the effectiveness of treating parasites with various concentrations of three different classes of dewormers. This work provided the basis for an ongoing investigation of how horse parasites become resistant to dewormer drugs. This research enabled Ayiana to develop skills needed as a graduate student, such as working on a research team, organizing and planning experiments, and presenting findings.

“The internship helped me prepare for graduate school because it allowed me to be part of a hands-on project,” said James. “This allowed me to fully grasp the steps that go into conducting a research project.”

James has not yet committed to a particular topic for her thesis research but is taking classes and gaining exposure to tools and procedures that will be important when she does. She is working in a UD lab focused on gut health in the production of chickens.

She has always been interested in science. Her aunt, Antonette Todd, a postdoctoral researcher in plant science at Delaware State University (DSU), consistently encourages her to push herself and helped James get into a summer research program there during high school.

James attended DSU as a USDA 1890 Agricultural Scholar and received the Corteva Developing Emerging Leaders & Talent in Ag (DELTA) Scholarship.

After working in a plant science lab during her first two years at DSU, James decided she’d like to try working with animals. Dr. Kwame Matthews, associate professor/small ruminant specialist at DSU, is trying to identify new means of parasite control that would be applicable for producers. With him and through the Project WiCCED internship, James has done fecal egg counts for parasites in goats, treated goats for parasites, and assisted in identifying anemia in goats and sheep. She has learned to do DNA and RNA isolation and to use the polymerase chain reaction technique to check for parasite infection.

She loves both the farm work and the lab work and is intrigued by the whole scientific process. “Scientists are so hands-on,” she said. “You see all the different steps and the processes that go into the experiment and the outcome.”

James is also gaining teaching skills. She is a teaching assistant for three classes—animal virology, animals and human culture, and one health—the idea that human, animal, plant, and environmental health are all interlinked.

James grew up in Philadelphia. Her aunt has been the biggest influence on so many of her school, career, and life decisions. “She said: ‘You can go after it and get it; it’s attainable if you put the work in,’” James said. Her aunt also taught her the importance of networking. “She really has gotten me out of my shell more, to just put myself out there more and take advantage of those opportunities.”

As for her future, James wants to do something hands-on with animals, but she’s keeping her options open. Life has been all about adjustment recently, as she’s graduated from DSU with a bachelor’s degree in animal science; gotten her driver’s license, a car, and an apartment in Newark; and started graduate school all within the past year.

James always keeps her “why” in mind—giving back. As a minority in agriculture, she knows that people are looking up to her and depending on her. “You can’t just give up because you’re tired today,” she said. “You can’t just give up because you feel like you don’t really know what you want in life right now. You can’t just give up on yourself.”

At DSU, James was involved with the Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP). She’ll speak there as an alum, to be a role model. She’s also been active with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (M.A.N.R.R.S.), and she plans to get involved with mental health community service organizations at UD soon.

By: Joy Drohan, EcoWrite

Photo Cedit: Elisha Buie