Student Interns

Our students are on the forefront of sustainable science with their innovative research, which will directly apply to local farmers, the agriculture industry and ecological urban advancement within our region. These hard-working individuals reflect the morals of our program and their participation shapes our success.

Current Interns


Matthew Kutugata

Matthew Kutugata
Graduate Student

Matt is looking at ways to use drone imagery and artificial intelligence to evaluate cover crops in south Texas. His experience as a park ranger working in farmland restoration, as an environmental educator, small-scale farmer, and working in the non-profit sector guides his work in understanding complex agroecological problems. In his spare time, he likes to cook, watch movies, and play soccer in the lab’s IM soccer team. Go Scoreghum!

Kaitlynn Lavallee

Kaitlynn Lavallee
Research Assistant

Katie is pursuing her Masters of Science under the Agricultural, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences focusing her thesis research on conducting native cover crop trials. She returned to UTRGV after a year of traveling in South East Asia volunteering at several wildlife conservation programs and working as a research assistant at Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. Katie is enthusiastic about connecting her passions of yoga, environmental awareness, and ecological conservation through the Mighty Trees Movement where she offers community events and classes to raise funds for restoration efforts.

Katie is grateful for the opportunity to study in this interdisciplinary program and excited to collaborate with a diverse network, including local farmers, as she strongly believes in cooperation and collectivity. With a heightened interest in collecting data on native flora and fauna interactions, she looks forward to better understand the ecosystem dynamics of the Rio Grande Valley and provide resources to encourage farmers to bridge ecology and agriculture. 

Katie's past research: UTRGV Food Survey Poster

Joy Youwakim

Joy Youwakim
Graduate Student

Joy’s current research is on heavy metal contamination patterns in agricultural sites due to nearby trafficked roads and/or socioeconomic status. She received her bachelors in Economics from UT Austin, and this is her second year as a grad student here at UTRGV. Joy also works for SARA's Texas Rural Cooperative Center and the Texas Plant and Soil Lab. On her spare time she enjoys running, backpacking through national parks, and eating most desserts

Qulina Rai

Qulina Rai
Graduate Student

Qulina’s research focuses on exploring ‘Effective Inoculation Techniques’ in Leguminous cover crops to improve Nitrogen availability in soil.  Considering the challenges in a sustainable approach of conservation farming and having a background in Organic Agriculture, she is committed to research more on different methods which would help aid and accelerate successful root nodulation in legumes leading to more Nitrogen fixation. Q likes to watch movies, cook, swim and go hiking in her spare time

Roberto Reyna Oviedo

Roberto Reyna Oviedo
Graduate Student

Roberto Reyna Oviedo, originally from Mexico, graduated from UTRGV with his Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2019. He has participated as a research assistant in the investigation of wing insect development in direct developing insects, and in the proliferation of the ZIKA virion in the salivary glands of possible vectors. Now he is pursuing a Master of Science under Agricultural, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences, hoping to use the skills he learned as a laboratory assistant to examine understudied avenues of research. In his spare time he enjoys baking, cooking, and spending time with his younger brothers and cat.

Allison Kaika

Allison Kaika
Graduate Student

Allison Kaika is a Masters student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley studying Agriculture, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences. She received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies: Food Systems from Boston College where she completed a thesis exploring New England small farmers’ perceptions of support from their communities. At UTRGV, she is pursuing sociological research that examines the relationship between local agriculture and civic engagement. Allison has an interest in agricultural policy and has spent two summers in Washington D.C. working with the National Family Farm Coalition and the National Farmers Union, respectively, to gain experience in the field. Allison focuses on how social relationships affect policy and the environment through food systems.

Samikshya Subedi

Samikshya Subedi
Graduate Student

Samikshya is graduate student at UTRGV pursuing her masters in Agricultural, Environmental and  Sustainability Sciences.  Her current research interest is to investigate the suitability of the North American lacebug (Gargaphia Arizonica) as a prospective biological control agent for Silverleaf Nightshade (Solanum Elaeagnifolium) and to determine if the potato cultivar “Nadine” is attacked by the leaf beetle Leptinotarsa texana under field conditions. She received her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Punjabi University, India. She also worked in CIMMYT, Nepal. Samikshya loves travelling, trekking and listening music in her spare time. 

Undergraduate Students

Marisol Cervantes

Marisol Cervantes
Program Assistant

Marisol is a program assistant and garden manager at our campus garden. She is a senior studying philosophy and environmental studies. Her philosophical interests are in environmentalism, stoicism, and philosophy for children. Marisol enjoys learning, singing, exploring nature, and visiting the garden with friends. 

Luzyannet Ballesteros Gonzalez

Luzyannet Ballesteros Gonzalez
Undergraduate Research Assistant

Luzyannet Ballesteros Gonzalez, originally from Mexico City, is currently pursuing a B.S in Environmental Science with an Environment and Society concentration. She currently participates as an undergrad research assistant mostly working with Heavy Metal Contamination and Environment Society Relationships. She has earned an associate degree in Chemistry from STC, previously worked as a lab technician at Texas Plant and Soil Lab, and is a DREAMUS scholar. In addition to her studies, she also works as a barista/baker at Reserva Coffee Roasters. In her spare time she likes to go on runs with Bean, her dog, and eat fusion food, read and oil paint.