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Plant pathology students learn how science can shape policy, careers in Capitol visit

Posted by struscott | August 1, 2018
Gathering on the steps of the state Capitol dome, a group of WSU plant pathology students smile for the camera.
Graduate students in the Field Plant Pathology and Mycology course at WSU visit the Washington State Capitol in Olympia as part of a state tour this summer, learning about policy, communication and careers.


Learning to communicate their science to policy makers and the public for healthier crops and better agriculture, graduate students in the Department of Plant Pathology toured the state and visited the Washington State Capitol this summer.

Students visited Olympia as part of Field Plant Pathology and Mycology (PLP 525), a graduate course led by Professor Lindsey du Toit that provides direct exposure to diverse careers in plant pathology.

Traveling the state in one-week trips this past June and July, du Toit led the students in experiencing many different aspects of real-world agriculture and plant disease management, including diverse professions, crops, diseases and regulatory issues. Students met with farmers, consultants, state and federal regulators, legislators, agricultural packers, private and public researchers, and seed industry stakeholders.

“Before this visit, most students really didn’t realize the importance of communicating sound science to the public and policy makers, and didn’t know how to establish that connection,” said du Toit. “Thanks to this tour, they’re developing those skills and awareness. In their course journals, many of them shared positive comments about the value of this experience.”

Students learned about how Washington state government is organized, how public policy is created, the role of the legislature in shaping agricultural policy, how to communicate science to a broad audience, and career paths in state government.

As part of the course, each student contacted their local representative to convey information about an important agricultural or educational issue.

At the Capitol, students met with specialists encompassing many aspects of agricultural policy, including 1st District State Rep. Derek Stanford; Kelly McLain, natural resource scientist for the Washington State Department of Agriculture; Robert Duff, senior policy advisor to Gov. Jay Inslee; and Aaron Wasser, communication director for the Senate Democratic Caucus.

The Capitol visit was coordinated with Kate Baber, public health policy specialist and a former high-school summer employee in du Toit’s program, who originated the idea for the Capitol visit.

Students taking part were Alex Batson, Vishnutej Ellur, David Enicks, Christine Jade Ermita, Billie Espejo, Lederson Ganan Betancur, Cedric Habiyaremye, Emmi Klarer, Olga Kozhar, Elliot Marston, Kaitlin Miller, Ryan Solemslie, and Carmen Swannack.