Keuka College’s Aliyah Brewer Earns Top Honors for Researching Ways to Save Apple Trees

The senior’s research experience captured the College’s Upper-class Field Period® and Experiential Learner of the Year.

Friday, July 7, 2023

New York State is the second largest producer of apples in the country. Those big crops add up to big bucks so when they face a threat, it could mean big trouble.

But one Keuka College student made it her mission to minimize that trouble in at least one area. Aliyah Brewer ’23 is helping apple trees stay healthy by researching ways to fight the deadly disease known as fire blight, which has a national economic impact of $100 million annually on the apple industry.

In the summer of 2022, the biology major used a Field Period® internship to join Cornell AgriTech’s nine-week Summer Scholars Research Program in Geneva, N.Y. Her project was aimed to develop genetic enhancement of fire blight resistance in apple trees.

That experience earned Aliyah the College’s Upper-class Field Period® and Experiential Learner of the Year Award, given annually to a student in recognition of individual achievements involving experiential learning.

“Aliyah joined undergraduate students from around the U.S. who had the opportunity to perform state-of-the-art research with Cornell professors and their graduate students,” said Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Luciana Parent, who nominated Aliyah for the award.

In her research, Aliyah found regions in the genes of apples that could contain the recipe for disease resistance. 

“My goal was to find useful screenings that could later be translated and given to growers to eliminate extremely susceptible trees,” said Aliyah. “When growers have healthier orchards, it saves them money, increases their yield, and ultimately creates more product for the consumer.” 

In addition to the hands-on education, Aliyah learned plant pathology and microbiology techniques, how to mix water agar gels, and coding analysis. She also attended field trips, listened to lectures, visited local farms, and toured several research orchards. She was also exposed to a variety of career options. 

“The networking and connections I made have dramatically affected my confidence,” said Aliyah. “I am excited to take what I have learned and apply it to my own research. I now know how my interests translate into productive research projects, and how to make myself memorable.” 

That is just what Dr. Parent hoped Aliyah would walk away with.

“Aliyah’s Field Period experience is what we wish for all Keuka College students,” said Dr. Parent. “It impacted her life and her future as much as it might impact the whole U.S. apple industry. For me, that is the best example of how experiential learning can make a difference to our students.

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