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UTRGV’s Rampersad-Ammons focuses on bees as a 2017 USDA E. Kika de la Garza Science Fellow

Dr. Joanne Rampersad-Ammons, UTRGV associate professor of chemistry, has been studying apiculture (bee keeping) and issues affecting honey bee health, thanks to a fellowship from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She is one of five educators nationwide to receive a 2017 USDA E. Kika de la Garza Science Fellowship. The fellowships are presented annually by the USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach and Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program. (UTRGV Photo by Silver Salas)

Dr. Joanne Rampersad-Ammons, UTRGV associate professor of chemistry, has been studying apiculture (bee keeping) and issues affecting honey bee health, thanks to a fellowship from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She is one of five educators nationwide to receive a 2017 USDA E. Kika de la Garza Science Fellowship. The fellowships are presented annually by the USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach and Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program. (UTRGV Photo by Silver Salas) 

By Gail Fagan

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – AUG. 3, 2017 – Dr. Joanne Rampersad-Ammons, associate professor of chemistry at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, spent time this summer studying apiculture (bee keeping) and issues affecting honey bee health, thanks to a fellowship she received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“My bee research began as a hobby, but grew into a research focus due to the extraordinarily high losses of honey bees nationally, and the lack of research in this area after the closure of the USDA Honey Bee Research Lab in Weslaco,” Rampersad-Ammons said. “Also, with our very short winters and the abundance of honey mesquite, I think that a vibrant cottage industry may be possible here.”

Rampersad-Ammons was one of five educators nationwide to receive a 2017 E. Kika de la Garza Science Fellowship sponsored by the USDA. The fellowships are presented annually by the USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach and Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program. This year, 13 education fellows were also selected.

The fellowship brings science and education faculty members from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) to USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C, for one week, to meet with all USDA agencies and the National Science Foundation in an effort to build collaborative partnerships with HSIs and the communities they serve.

At the D.C. headquarters, Rampersad-Ammons said, she was impressed by the breadth of the portfolio covered by the USDA and the opportunities that exist through the USDA for her students, such as financial assistance for young entrepreneurs who need capital to start small agri-businesses. 

Her two-week USDA research internship, June 24 to July 8, was at the Honey Bee Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she learned about honey bee husbandry, disease diagnostics, breeding and artificial insemination.

Honey bees are integral to pollinating many agricultural crops to ensure fruit set, she said.

“It has often been said that one of every three bites of food we eat is a result of pollinators, like honey bees. Yet nationally, honey bee losses over the past several years have been staggering,” she said. “Locally, several issues, such as Varroa mite infestation or small hive beetles, plague beekeepers in the area which if left untreated will severely damage their colonies or kill them.”

Past research by Rampersad-Ammons, who also directs the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-funded Science Education Grant Program at UTRGV, has been biochemistry/microbiology-based and specifically focused on the spread of antibiotic resistance in Staphylococcus aureus, (a bacterium found in the nose, respiratory tract and skin), medical diagnostics and the use of Bacillus thuringiensis (a soil-borne bacterium) for agricultural and anti-cancer medical applications.

She also has strong collaborative projects that look at how experiential learning, especially undergraduate research training, affects students and prepares them for careers.

“It is one thing to teach students content knowledge, but it is another to teach them life skills that leave them in charge of their destiny,” she said.

In spring 2018, Rampersad-Ammons will direct some of her research efforts and teaching focus to aquaculture – the rearing of aquatic animals or the cultivation of aquatic plants for food. She will teach a class on the subject to support the UTRGV School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences’ thrust in marine science, sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Rampersad-Ammons said that years ago aquaculture was a multi-million dollar enterprise in the Rio Grande Valley based on a saltwater shrimp culture.

“Much of it has disappeared due to a viral shrimp disease that wiped out many operations,” she said. “However, when you look at the Valley, a lot of infrastructure was put in for agriculture in the form of irrigation canals and drainage ditches, which may support freshwater aquaculture/aquaponics, if the correct species and methods are used.”

THE FELLOWSHIP

The E. Kika de la Garza Fellowship is named after the first Hispanic U.S. Congressman elected to represent Texas’ 15th district, the late E. Kika de la Garza, a native of Mercedes, Texas, who served in Congress from 1965 to 1997. De la Garza co-founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and served as chairman of the Congressional Agricultural Committee from 1981-1994, where he had an influential role in reorganizing the USDA.

ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Gail.Fagan@UTRGV.edu
Senior Writer / 956-665-7995 

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications 956-665-2742