2021 Apprentices

The Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program has helped our apprentices grow in their fields and prepare them for their future endeavors.

Billy Sims is from Winchester, Tennessee, and studying Agribusiness Management at Mississippi State University. He worked in Starkville working with Dr. Alan Barefield on economic analysis of Mississippi communities. Being originally from outside of Mississippi, he was given the opportunity to learn more about this wonderful state, and further understand how different economic shocks can impact its communities! Billy learned how to use STATA for research and how agriculture research is related to farming.  He also learned how to extension services in agriculture effect people everyday, and the importance of making sure detailed work is done right because it can cost people money and grants. Additionally, Billy gained experience going to water plant operator meetings with Dr. Barefield.

Becca Burks worked with Dr. Adam Rohnke at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond, MS this summer working to create an online community engagement tool from data from urban wildlife studies in Jackson, MS along with Gregory Leland, another apprentice in the program. Becca is from Jonesboro, Arkansas and a rising Junior Environmental Studies and Biology double major at Hendrix College in Conway, AR. Becca previously worked with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission on the Urban Wildlife Information Network, which partners with cities in the U.S. and Canada (including Jackson!) to do urban wildlife camera studies. Through that research, Becca learned about this opportunity and hopes to gain experience in engaging the citizens of Jackson in scientific knowledge and play a part of being on the public communications side of research. Becca learned the importance of learning new skills and how to step up and understand that roles and jobs are ever changing. She  gained experience with reaching out to the public to inform them of environmental changes and gained experience networking. She also learned the best way to achieve big goals and how to work as a team to get projects done.

Katherine Brune is from Ocean Springs, MS. She goes to Mississippi State University and is a rising Senior with a major in Human Development and Family Science with a concentration in Family and Consumer Science Teacher Education. This summer Katherine worked under mentors Dr. Denny and Dr. Hardman. They worked with content experts in the field of Family and Consumer Science (FCS) to define the knowledge areas of FCS and update the competencies. This is part of a larger scale plan to evaluate agents and develop trainings. She learned more about the research process, FCS content, and the Extension program. Katherine recently got accepted into MSU’s Accelerated program for HDFS, so she was excited to gain research experience before starting on her thesis. She would also love to work for an Extension program one day. She worked on focus groups including the background information research and how to conduct a focus group. She learned how to work with others in a professional setting rather than just relying on herself. Katherine also learned how to allocate more time to tedious parts of projects and understand that sometimes it is okay to start over or revise previous work so that the final work is better.

“A great opportunity for undergrads to develop a deeper understanding of their field while gaining practical experience. I don’t think my plans for the future (or my understanding of what extension careers look like) would be as clear if I hadn’t completed this program.” – Katherine Brune

Amit Chandramouly was an apprentice for the Helping Communities Plan for Sea-Level Rise Program! He worked with Carey Schafer and Renee Collini to conduct cost-benefit analyses for coastal populations to aid in their resilience development efforts. As an aspiring policy entrepreneur, Amit was very excited to gain experience with GIS, grant writing, and science extension and communication. Having lived in India and gone to high school in California, Amit came down to Mississippi to expand his comfort zone. In the fall, he will return to Syracuse University in New York as a junior, where he’s studying in policy studies, sustainability, and data analytics. Amit learned the importance of software use in research and how to use the software itself. He also learned  how to make connections with other people and the knowledge he gained in his assistantship will further him in his future career.

Jaden Akers is  a Mississippi State senior in Starkville majoring in Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture with a concentration in conservation biology. Her apprenticeship was in Biloxi, MS working with Dr. Eric Sparks at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center with the Coastal Conservation and Restoration lab group.  I worked with this lab last summer and had such a great experience learning so many technical skills that I wanted to come back and work on my own project. This summer, she conceptualized and designed her own study examining the effects of fiddler crabs and their burrows on the growth potential of black needle rush and shoreline erosion on the Gulf Coast. In addition to this, she worked with graduate students and other lab members assisting with their field and lab work. Jaden learned how to develop new skills and doing things that are important to the project she may not want to do.. She gained experience with event planning and project design. She learned the importance of being able to connect real world situations with research.


Gregory Leland is from Southaven, MS, and a rising senior studying Environmental Science and GIS at Mississippi State University. This summer, he was an apprentice under Dr. Rohnke to work on a project for mapping and telling the story of urban wildlife in the Jackson Metro area! By the end of the summer, he expanded his GIS and community engagement skills to further pursue a future in urban planning and development! Gregory learned the importance of accountability and how to expand his skill set during projects. He also learned how to step out of his comfort zone to make community connections and professional connections. Through networking during his apprenticeship Gregory also learned how to work as a team on projects.

Alexis Monti was one of two apprentices working with Renee Collini and Carey Shafer on the Helping Communities Plan for Sea Level Rise apprenticeship program. She researched the economic side of sea-level rise in Biloxi at the MSU Coastal Research and Extension Center.. This apprenticeship was particularly interesting to her since it combines her interests in climate change adaptation with extension work while also exposing her to new perspectives. Alexis  enjoyed working in the Gulf for the summer since she has never been to MS or the surrounding states before. She goes to University of Massachusetts, Amherst where she is a senior double majoring in Environmental Science and Natural Resources Conservation. She is from Pembroke, MA, which is located about 30 minutes south of Boston which is another city experiencing the impacts of sea level rise. Alexis learned how to use cost benefit analysis and computer software and how to use software for sea levels research. With breaking through her comfort zone, she realized that she enjoys fieldwork and wants to possibly work in the field in her future. Alexis gained experience how to negotiate stakeholders and how to collaborate on projects. With projects, she also learned how to use them to design science communication pieces and how to reach the public to inform them on scientific matters.    

“I had a great time. This was a very solid program. I am happy I took the position and was happily surprised by how welcoming and kind everyone at the office was. I received a lot of one on one advice and have been given opportunities I never thought I would have access to as an undergraduate.” – Alexis Monte

Ashleigh Dunaway is from Ocean Springs, MS. She is a senior biological engineering student at Mississippi State. This summer, she worked at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, MS under Eric Sparks. At CREC, she worked on designing and implementing shoreline restoration projects and assist research projects such as the effects of marine debris on marsh grasses. Through her apprenticeship she learned how to use criticism to her advantage, how to prepare for a for a project, how to be flexible and patient during research, and how to collect data. She was able to network during her apprenticeship which she will use in her future career. She also learned how to write a grant and what kind of skillset it takes to write a grant. She also learned the importance to be prepared for anything – including impromptu fieldwork.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I learned a lot and grew professionally and personally.” – Ashleigh Dunaway.

Stay tuned for information on apprenticeships for Summer of 2022!

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Girl wading knee-deep in water measuring its depth with a yardstick
Filed Under: Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program, Environment May 26, 2021

Like sea levels, expenses related to flooding in communities and businesses along the Gulf Coast are rising.

One student spent last summer investigating ways to mitigate these costs while enhancing approaches to shoreline protection during her time in the Mississippi State University Extension Undergraduate Apprenticeship program. The program is targeted toward high-achieving undergraduates from across the country to give them firsthand experiences in research and extension to understand how research can be applied.

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Portrait of Dr. Alisha Marie Hardman
Associate Professor
Family Life Specialist, Extension Program Planning and Evaluation