Cal Poly Pomona students are using their information-gathering skillset to provide valuable feedback and statistics related to organic produce to the Pomona Valley community.
These students make up Team D.I.R.T, a team that is a part of the Learn Through Discovery (LTD) Projects Hatchery. Guided by their faculty mentors, they are analyzing soil samples to determine the quality of produce cultivated by local farmers in and around the area and returning this data to directly improve the quality of life for people around them, including women and marginalized communities.
The LTD Hatchery is a program which guarantees all willing Cal Poly Pomona students a Signature Polytechnic Experience (PolyX) before graduation. The Hatchery supports projects which directly impact the local community, help students discover their passion, and build both personal and professional connections. The program utilizes mentorship, regular meetings, and guidance from community partners to create a phased operations plan for each team and to ensure those who want to make a difference will be successful.
Team D.I.R.T., which stands for Diving Into Research Today, consists of current biology students Luigi Andrade, Alec Iskenderian, and Nadia Said, with early contributions by their peers, David Chen and Jalen Chevalier. Their mentors are Victoria Bhavsar, director of the Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence (CAFE) and Liberal Studies Associate Professor Teresa Lloro. They both help guide the team through the five phases of the Hatchery as they explore the impact of soil health on the local community’s produce farming and purchases.
“We get our nourishment from food. Food gets its nourishment from soil. If the soil is healthy, the nourishment is better. Farm soil gets its nourishment from the way it’s farmed. This project explores the extent to which the farmers and the people who buy food from those farms believe the story told in those four statements is true,” Bhavsar said about the project.
It’s a big undertaking, and it will take time; Team D.I.R.T. is in the early stages of their project, and findings are pending.
One of the most significant parts of being a Hatchery team is the support given to students with big ideas and the drive to execute them. The Hatchery provided funding to Team D.I.R.T., which they believe they otherwise would not have gotten.
When asked about his experience in the Hatchery, Andrade said, “Being a first-generation college student, I never thought it would be possible to gain enough funding and support in order to continue with such a complex research project such as this one.”
Of course, the Hatchery is not all about funding; a key aspect of the program which makes it as unique as it is successful is the mentor participation in team projects. Iskenderian expressed that mentors were a vital component of their work, and while their direction was helpful, they also provided the space for independent problem-solving and critical thinking which would help them truly learn and grow.
Team D.I.R.T. has made strides within the program, made in part by their dedication and perseverance. Iskenderian described his undergraduate experiences in biology, chemistry, and physics, with a heavy emphasis on evidence without bias. Taking part in a project that had a focus on social sciences as well, where systemic issues of race and gender are present and must be accounted for, was intimidating and new for him, he said, adding that his time with Team D.I.R.T. is helping him grow into a new understanding.
“Now, I feel that I can think in many different ways and challenge myself with complex topics I would have never thought of before,” he said.
Students experiencing the Hatchery for the first time may be intimidated by the new opportunities in the beginning, but those on Team D.I.R.T. have insight and perspective for them. Going forward, Andrade offered advice to future Hatchery students.
“Don’t be afraid to take criticism and change certain aspects of your research project. Sometimes the initial idea that first came into our mind might not end up being feasible in the long run,” Andrade said. “This is definitely not a setback, but rather just another opportunity to learn and improve upon your research skills!”
Students who want to learn more about the Hatchery can visit the Hatchery website to explore the program, view application details and criteria, and see current and past team project information. Students can also watch a helpful video all about the Hatchery and email the Hatchery at firstname.lastname@example.org if they have questions about the program.