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⚠️ Information and Updates Regarding COVID-19's Impact on the College of Agricultural Sciences

College Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Do you need research experience?

The College of Agricultural Sciences has developed an Undergraduate Research Fellowship for up to ten students per year from across the College. We aim to provide opportunities for undergraduates to find purpose, mentorship and community within their academic discipline and we aspire to facilitate self-discovery through research engagement and increase access for all undergraduates to impactful science.

Student are encouraged to compete for the Fellowship by identifying a project of interest from the list available online. Each fellowship will last for one semester – Fall, Spring, or Summer – and will pay the Fellow $2,000/semester for the hours worked. At approximately $13/hour, students will be allotted 10 hours per week over a 15-week semester to complete their unique project. Project leaders will be given $300 to assist with purchasing project supplies. All Fellows are encouraged to present their final project at the Multicultural Undergraduate Research Art and Leadership Symposium or the Celebrate Undergraduate Research and Creativity Showcase in spring of each year.


Please contact Addy Elliott, Assistant Dean of Academic Advising and Student Success with any questions!  (970) 491-6984

Student Application


The DEADLINE for the application has passed. 

To apply to the Spring 2022 CAS Undergraduate Research Fellowship, please review the available projects below. Once you have read through each project, click here to apply.


Spring 2021 College of Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate Fellow Projects

Mentor: Terry Engle

Animal Sciences Department

Trace elements (copper, manganese, and zinc) play an important role in growth, immune function, and fetal development in beef cattle. Understanding how these elements are digested, absorbed and, metabolized are critical to improving beef cattle production.

These projects will require sample collection from live animals, laboratory analysis, and data interpretation.

Opportunities: Time spent working with and collecting samples from beef cattle; laboratory analysis, and possibly data presentation at a regional or national meeting.

Mentors: Caitlin Cadaret / Allison Vautier

Animal Sciences Department

This project will serve as a subset to a broader project being conducted in our lab. We are evaluating nutrient restriction during gestation on lamb growth, development, and metabolism. After weaning, lambs will be evaluated for reproductive and generational impacts in females and profit driving characteristics in males such as growth, efficiency, digestibility, and carcass characteristics. Results from these projects will inform the way we manage grazing livestock in the west as nutrient restriction naturally occurs on pastures that are limited in nutrients during winter when animals are normally pregnant. Better understanding of developmental programming impacts will allow us to identify compromised animals quick and develop management techniques that recover deficits from these animals.

For the spring semester tasks will include daily husbandry practices for ~30 pregnant yearling ewes. Administration of dietary treatments, collection of weights and blood from both dams and lambs. Assistance with lambing, weekly morphometric collection from lambs. If time allows, laboratory analysis by ELISA of blood hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism.

The student will be trained in correct animal handling and welfare both by IACUC training and on the job training with the animals. They will be able to spend a large amount of time out at ARDEC getting experience with large animal handling and data collection. If time allows the student will also be provided laboratory experience in the nutrition lab of animal sciences to analyze blood collected during the fellowship period, as well as brief data analysis. Student is welcome to attend any laboratory meetings, seminars, and presentations of research. While we do not attend societal meetings during the spring semester, the student will have the opportunity to present a poster at the CSU events. Additionally, if the student continues with our group they will be provided the opportunity to take a poster to a society meeting in summer.


Mentor: Rebecca Cleary

Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics

Diet-related diseases disproportionately affect lower-income and less-educated households. There is a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, heart disease, type II diabetes, stroke, inflammation, and other diet-related morbidities and an increased risk of mortality among these at-risk households. The distribution of these diseases may be linked with poorer nutrition, which may be passed on to future generations. At-risk households, on average, have diet qualities that are poorer than more advantaged households, which may contribute to the increased prevalence of diet-related diseases among these populations.

Explanations for the difference in nutrition include the higher costs of healthier diets, food environment, and health behaviors and literacy that may be related to education. There is some evidence that at-risk households eat fewer fruits and vegetables; although the evidence that there is a difference in nutrition in macronutrients (e.g., protein) is mixed.

This project will investigate which factors—diet costs, food environment, nutrition knowledge, demographics—contribute to the gap in nutrition and how their contributions vary from low- to high-quality diets. Understanding the relative importance of these factors will help to inform nutrition policy aimed at improving nutrition for at-risk households with low quality diets.

The CAS Undergraduate Research Fellow will:
  • Extract, clean, and manage the publicly available National Food Acquisitions and Purchases Survey (FoodAPS) data,
  • Write and execute a program code to conduct mathematical analyses in STATA, and
  • Interpret results from mathematical analysis to inform policy.

This project comes with a broad range of potential opportunities:

  • Encouraged to join monthly Food Systems Research Lab meetings in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
  • Invitation to network and collaborate with a team consisting of researchers, students, and policymakers conducting research to inform U.S. nutrition policy
  • One-on-one instruction on the use and handling of data
  • One-on-one instruction on using programming methods and organizing files for research
  • Weekly meetings with the project mentor
  • Other opportunities to connect with policymakers, economists, and the professional organization dependent upon project progress


Dr. Boris C. Kondratieff

Agricultural Biology

For the first time an ecological important group of aquatic insects of the Plecoptera (stoneflies), specifically of the family Nemouridae (the forestflies), and the genus Podmosta, will be studied using a Scanning Electron Microscope, elucidating for the first time specific morphological details that will allow the identification of the five North American species. The species of the genus measure only 3-5 mm in length, and the genitalia are not easily studied under a light microscope. The genus Podmosta is considered an important ecological indicator of global climate change, occurring usually in high altitude lakes and streams from Alaska to Atlantic Canada, west to both the Northern and southern Rocky Mountains, areas are that are experiencing dramatic impacts to water resources.


The student will confirm the specific identifications of approximately 300 vials of ethanol preserved adults of the genus Podmosta at the C.P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity, Colorado state University, one of the largest collection of the genus in North America and perform the scanning electron microscope work at the Central Instrument Facility, Imaging Laboratory, Colorado State University. The student will georeference all specimen collections and key person preparing a manuscript for publication. This work will easily exceed 150 hours.


The student will trained using the SEM apparatus (JEOL JSM-6500F Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope and how to prepare specimens for imaging, such as critical point drying, sputter coating Terminalia with gold, and mounting on stubs, all tedious and exacting work.



Robyn Roberts

Agricultural Biology

Colorado is a major producer and exporter of winter wheat, and the partnership of Colorado State University with the farmer-governed Colorado Wheat Research Foundation supports the breeding and development of elite wheat lines resistant to several pathogens, pests, and environmental conditions. Climate change is a major threat to wheat production across the world due to increased drought, temperature, and changes in pest and pathogen populations. To prepare wheat for climate change challenges, this project will screen elite breeding lines from CSU for resistance against pathogens that may become more common in Colorado and the United States, including bacterial leaf streak (BLS). Lines with increased resistance to bacterial leaf streak will be characterized and may be incorporated into the CSU wheat breeding program.


The undergraduate fellow will sow ~50 unique germplasm lines from the CSU wheat breeding program, inoculate plants with the bacterial leaf streak (BLS) pathogen, and observe plants for BLS symptoms. Symptoms will be documented using a disease rating scale and through photographs. Resistant lines (up to ~10 lines) will be tested for resistance against several BLS isolates from Colorado and the United States. The fellow will also aid PI Roberts in characterizing Colorado BLS isolates, which may include sequencing, PCR, and disease assays. If time permits, the undergraduate fellow will screen the germplasm lines for resistance against other wheat pathogens, potentially including viruses and fungi.


The fellow will meet individually with PI Roberts every week to discuss the project, and will participate in weekly lab meetings where the fellow will have opportunities to present and discuss their work with the lab. The fellow will be trained to rate plants for disease, conduct PCR, analyze sequences, and care for research plants. There may be opportunities to meet with collaborators, including wheat breeders, to discuss findings. If resistance is discovered, there may be opportunities to work with breeders to test the resistance in field trials in the future.


Susan Melzer
Soil and Crop Sciences Department
The increase in size and intensity of forestland wildfires along the Front Range of Northern Colorado has resulted in human casualties, economic loss and ecosystem degradation. Risk assessment is a key component to wildfire management and to the decision- making processes aimed at preventing loss in each of these three areas. Fire prediction models and post-fire runoff and erosion research are utilized to assess risk, and are conventionally informed by soil property data derived from digital soil mapping products. Soil properties have important effects on fire occurrence and burn severity can predict erosion and revegetation potential. However, the relationship between soil properties and fire severity must be better quantified using dynamic soil properties rather than the static properties that are conventionally used in the construction of soil surveys Dynamic soil properties are soil properties that are impacted by management and disturbance. They are indicators of soil function and soil change. Information about how soils change due to a disturbance like wildfire can better impact soil functions and are critical for predicting burn severity, environmental degradation and potential economic losses at the management scale.


Investigators will work within the constraints defined by the soil surveys of south-central Rocky Mountains developed by the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS). Soil pedon data of past (within 10 years) severe-burn sites within this region will be located using digital soil mapping products and resampled, to include characterization of dynamic soil properties (organic matter, soil structure, infiltration rate, bulk density, and water and nutrient holding capacity). Investigators will learn how to use an amoozemeter to determine in -situ, saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksat) of the vadose (unsaturated) zone. Pedon data of severe burn sites will be compared to those of non-burned sites. The value of including dynamic soil property data in fire prediction and post-fire run-off and erosion models will be assessed. This project included the following tasks: database management, GIS/ GPS locating, data analysis, and field sampling.


Investigators will be trained to use digital soil mapping products via CSU access to computers and databases. They will also be trained and accompanied in the field for pedon sampling. Access to mentorship from NRCS soil scientists from the south-central Rocky Mountain region has already been established and will include weekly to biweekly meetings to provide support and keep the investigators on task and the project on target.


Franck Dayan

Agricultural Biology

There is a great need to discover new herbicides to combat evolution of resistance. Data generated by the student may lead to the identification of new herbicide chemical classes targeting photosynthesis.
This work is in collaboration with a start up company (MOA Inc) associated with the University of Oxford (UK). Using their proprietary discovery platform, MOA Inc has identified 100 potential new inhibitors of photosystem II. The student will be responsible for testing these compounds using a series of physiological and biochemical assays. The student will grow plants in the greenhouse and will be responsible for carrying laboratory assays after appropriate training. Phase 1 – screen 100 compounds for their effect on photosynthetic electron transport to identify active molecules. Phase 2 – carry out dose response curves on the active molecules to identify the most potent structures. Phase 3 – measure the effect of the lead compounds on photosynthetic oxygen evolution in isolated thylakoid membranes.


The student will be part of our research group, receive individual training in the greenhouse and laboratory, will participate in weekly lab meeting, perform experiments and provide data in an excel datasheet.


Catie Cramer, PhD and Logan Papinchak

Animal Sciences

This project will contribute to the efforts of determining effective treatment for BRD (Bovine Respiratory Disease) in pre-weaned dairy heifers. This project will also measure pain behaviors and pain-associated biomarkers to evaluate the effectiveness of various NSAIDs at reducing pain during BRD treatment. Overall, this project will contribute to the efforts of improved detection and treatment methods of BRD in pre-weaned dairy heifers. Additionally, this project has the potential to identify novel biomarkers that could be used in future studies investigating pain in livestock.


Student will be assisting with recording data on dairy farms, entering data into software, collecting blood samples, restraining calves for ultrasound, taking calves’ temperatures, and processing blood samples.


Student will be invited to attend weekly lab meetings and will have the project team readily available as resources. The student will take ownership of a small portion of the larger research project to learn data analysis, scientific writing, and critical thinking skills. The student will also have the opportunity to present their portion of the research project at future conferences.


Dr. Ruth Hufbauer and Jacqueline Meyer

Agricultural Biology

Community forests are of critical importance to the ecological integrity of the urban and semi-urban landscape and provide millions of dollars in ecosystem services annually. In an era of increasing globalization, introduced species of insects pose a threat to urban forests, where drought stress and a changing climate regime can make trees more vulnerable to attack. Classical biological control, the introduction of a natural enemy from the native range of an invasive pest, is a valuable tool for controlling invasive species. Parasitoids are the most commonly utilized biocontrol agent due to their high specificity on a single host species and their effectiveness in inducing host mortality. This project will identify the population dynamics and parasitoids of a novel invasive insect of Elm trees, the European Elm Flea Weevil, in order to inform state and national scale biological control and urban forest management efforts. The adult flea weevils cause damage to elm leaves by chewing small holes through the leaves. For one generation each year, adults lay a single egg in a leaf vein, and the larvae feed as miners between leaf layers, causing further damage. Their parasitoids are tiny wasps with free-living adults and parasitic larvae. The wasp adult lays an egg in the leaf mine, and the wasp larvae feed and develop on the weevil larvae or pupae, ultimately killing them.


The fellow will be involved in an exciting combination of field sampling and laboratory rearing. The fellow will assist in establishing survey plots in the field, sampling Elm trees in these plots weekly, and keeping meticulous data records. Samples with larval leaf mines will be taken back to the lab, where leaf mines will be reared until either the adult weevil or a parasitoid emerges. The fellow will monitor leaf mines in the lab and will be responsible for careful record keeping and curating specimens. The fellow will learn how to sample in the field, execute laboratory best practices, and identify parasitoids to broad taxonomic group. The fellow will work in a team as well as independently. Although there will be some preparatory work prior to field sampling, the majority of work for this project will take place once elm trees begin to produce new buds and leaves in the spring, starting at the end of March.


The fellow will be taught the basic biology of the invasive insect, their Elm hosts, and their parasitoid natural enemies and will be brought up to speed on the project with relevant literature. They will also receive training on field sampling techniques and protocol for working with insects in the lab and the field. The fellow will be invited to weekly lab meetings, where they will be able to experience academic research and graduate school expectations first-hand. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to network with collaborators and other faculty members involved in the project. Given that there is much unknown about this biological system, the fellow will be able to contribute to creation of brand new knowledge with potential for direct management application, which is really cool!


Dr Laure Olazcuaga (postdoc) and Dr Ruth Hufbauer

Agricultural Biology

When environments change, populations of plants and animals can decline and risk eventually going extinct. Adaptation to changes in the environment can reduce the risk of extinction, a process called ‘evolutionary rescue’. Theory predicts that adaptation requires genetic variation. Experiments show that probability of rescue is higher with genetic variation, but they mainly focus on large populations that harbor substantial genetic variation (for example using yeast or bacteria; e.g., Martin et al. 2013). In the context of evolutionary rescue, however, populations are expected to be small, which means that other evolutionary processes such as inbreeding depression and genetic drift can interfere with adaptation. We therefore wonder how the level of genetic variance influences the probability of rescue in more realistically populations.

The fellow will be involved in an exciting combination of different tasks to discover for themselves how research proceeds from start to finish. The tasks will include rearing experimental populations of beetles, planning and executing experiments, collecting, managing, and analyzing data, discussing experiments and results during meetings and conference. Students will work both independently and as part of a team.


The fellow will be trained in a complete and entire research project, including set-up experiments to answer a question of scientific interest, data management and analysis, and presentation of results. The fellow will learn how to set up an experiment by developing skills of scientific rigor and organization, but also will receive training on techniques for working with insects in the lab. For the statistical analysis, the fellow will learn to analyze data using both Excel and R to create informative and shareable figures. These, along with a summary of the relevant literature, experimental protocol, and discussion, will be showcased in a poster and oral presentation. The fellow will gain experience sharing their research with other researchers involved in the project (collaborators at University of Boulder, and members of Hufbauer lab), but also with the public at an undergraduate research conference (CURC or MURALS). In addition, the fellow will familiarize themselves with laboratory and research life by participating in the weekly Hufbauer lab meetings. The fellow will be welcomed to other departmental events to learn about the research interests of other labs. If interested, the fellow would be invited to contribute to writing a publication up about the work, which would help develop their resume over the long run (the publication process takes time, thus the publication would not be expected to come out for a year or so).


Vamsi Nalam, Emily Luna and Jan Leach

Agricultural Biology

The Russian wheat aphid is an economically important pest of cereals worldwide. Although it causes direct feeding damage to the leaves and flowers of wheat and barley, its main impact on plants is yellowing, stunted growth and loss of vigor. Previous work in the Leach lab has shown that the microbiome of the Russian wheat aphid is critical for aphid virulence and the development of majority of the symptoms. Aphids that have been cleared of the microbiome (clean aphids) fail to generate the yellowing symptoms on wheat and barley plants. The goal of this work is to use the electrical penetration graph technique to monitor aphid feeding behavior of “clean” and “dirty” aphids.


Aphids feed by inserting their slender stylets into the plant causing minimal damage on their way to the plant’s vasculature. The electrical penetration graph is technique in which the aphid and the plant are made part of a simple electrical circuit. Once the aphid begins feeding the circuit is complete and is displayed visually as a graph with different waveforms indicating either different insect activities such as saliva excretion or the ingestion of cellular contents or indicating which tissue type has been penetrated (i.e. phloem, xylem or mesophyll). During the course of the proposed work, colonies of “clean” and “dirty” aphids will be generated and maintained. The electrical penetration graph technique will then be used to study the feeding behavior of the two types of aphids. This involves wiring the aphids with a gold wire and monitoring feeding of the aphids over a 8 hour period on wheat/barley plants. The student will also be involved in the downstream analysis of the waveforms.


The student will be trained in: (1) the scientific method, (2) aphid colony maintenance, (3) Aseptic technique to generate “clean” aphids, (4) the electrical penetration graph technique, (5) Analysis of waveforms, and (6) various statistical tests to determine differences in aphid feeding behavior. The student will also take part in the Leach/Nalam lab meetings where they will be exposed to wide variety of topics in plant-pest/pathogen interactions. The student will be able to present the data at the Annual CURC showcase at CSU and contribute to the publication of a peer-reviewed manuscript that is expected to have a high impact in the field of plant-aphid interactions.


Punya Nachappa

Agricultural Biology

With the current revisitation of hemp as a crop to be produced within the United States there are a great many challenges, notably the arthropod (insects and mites) pests associated with the crop are essentially undescribed, as are the pest management needs. Several arthropod species have been observed to feed on all parts of the plant. However, the most serious pest that present high potential for crop injury is the hemp russet mite (HRM). In Colorado, HRM is widely distributed in all hemp growing counties and one grower reported to have expended over $300,000 just for pesticide costs used in spraying fields in 2019. In Tennessee, ca. 18% of the growers had serious problems with HRM in 2019 and several growers reported destroying and burning their fields due to this pest. Moreover, it listed by cannabis producers in California as the most important pest species of the crop. Although HRM can occur on any type of hemp crop, hemp producers that have significant problems with HRM are producing CBD forms of the crop. This production system involves clonal propagation, producing transplants for field production cloned from mother plants. Hence, it is critical that the transplants are 100% free of pests including HRM.

The specific tasks related to this project are:

DNA extractions. You will need to be trained in DNA extraction techniques. This is routinely done in my lab, so I don’t anticipate any problems. I expect that she will work with my graduate student, Judith Chiginsky who is well-trained in molecular techniques.

Primer development. Currently, there are no there are no nucleotide sequences deposited for HRM in GenBank from which primers can be developed. The nearest relative of hemp russet mite, is tomato russet mite that has two nucleotide sequences for house-keeping genes, COI and ITS2. We will use these sequences to design species-specific primers to amplify these genes in HRM.

PCR cycling conditions. You will work with me to develop optimal PCR conditions for the HRM detection.

Data analysis and presentation of results. The PCR products (amplicons) will have to be sequenced to confirm that the COI and ITS2 sequences only match HRM and no other mite.

I anticipate that each task will take on average one month (35-40 hours), so it  can be completed in one semester.

There will be several mentoring opportunities. In addition, I expect that you will present results at CURC and MURAL in spring, ARDEC field day in August and other extension meetings in Fall.


Kevin Lehner/John McKay

Agricultural Biology

The number of shoot branches, or tillers, is a major determinant of crop yield in cereals (such as sorghum, rice, and wheat). Tillers that develop may either continue to maturity, contributing to yield, or arrest during the life of the plant. This process is thought to be under a complex mix of genetic and environmental control. The Undergraduate Research Fellow will use molecular and imaging tools to understand the genetics of shoot branching in sorghum.


The fellow will use a plant imaging system to measure the growth and development of shoot branches over time in a diverse set of sorghum lines. We will then perform DNA and/or RNA sequencing to understand the genetic and transcriptional control of branching. The fellow will gain hands-on experience with both greenhouse-based plant imaging and molecular/genetic analysis. This experience would be equally helpful for students interested in molecular plant breeding or fundamental questions in plant developmental biology.


The fellow will participate in and present their work at the McKay Lab weekly meeting.


Dr Geoffrey Morris (Associate professor) and Dr. Rubi Raymundo (Fellow postdoc)
Soil and Crop Sciences Department
Crop breeding seeks to identify adaptation traits that can increase crop productivity for water scarce environments. Drought tolerance traits such as limited transpiration and canopy temperature traits have been listed as potential traits to develop sorghum climate resilient varieties. However, these traits are frequently evaluated neglecting the complexity of canopy architecture during the crop development. Understanding the role of canopy architecture in physiological processes such as the light interception, evapotranspiration demand and heat transport is fundamental to quantify the expected value of any drought adaptation trait. This research aims to explore the intertwined relationship between canopy architecture and drought adaptation traits. We hypothesize that methods to evaluate drought adaptation traits (limited transpiration) are effective despite variability of canopy architecture among genotypes and during the plant growth and development.


Sorghum genotypes, previously characterized for their canopy temperature and transpiration response traits will be planted in the greenhouse under a completely randomized design with three repetitions. Canopy architecture traits that will be analyzed through the growing season are the maximum number of leaves, leaf size, leaf angle and plant height. The maximum number of leaves will be determined between seedling emergence and the flag leaf appearance for which the number of leaves will be evaluated on a weekly basis. The leaf size for each leaf across the canopy depth will be evaluated at anthesis. To this end, all leaves from individual plants will be detached and sequentially arranged in a panel to take a photo. This photo will be processed with the ImageJ software to obtain the size, length and width of each individual leaf. The leaf angle will be evaluated in the middle of the canopy at anthesis and physiological maturity. To measure leaf angle, photos of each genotype will be taken and processed with the ImageJ software. Plant height, panicle length and peduncle exertion will be measured at physiological maturity using measuring sticks. Each trait will be evaluated with an analysis of variance, and a correlation with reported canopy temperature and limited transpiration response will be determined.


The student will be trained in the scientific goal setting and experimental design to test hypotheses ( Furthermore, the student will participate in all the activities surrounding the Crop Adaptation lab, including presentations of the research project.
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