GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When Ibukun “Timothy” Ayankojo moved from Ibadan, Nigeria, to Immokalee, Florida, the difference in population from 3 million to about 24,000 was an adjustment. With that difference in population, Ayankojo saw graduate student housing availability in southwest Florida was low while costs were – and still are – high. The nearest apartment complexes are nearly 45 minutes away from Immokalee.
As a University of Florida doctoral student in soil and water sciences with a concentration in agroecology at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC), Ayankojo struggled to find affordable housing in the area. He was grateful that SWFREC had housing on site for graduate students like him.
“To have housing that is readily available and at a lower cost than what you’re going to get from surrounding towns makes me so thankful,” Ayankojo said. “As graduate students, we don’t have much money, and for international students, it is especially difficult for us to find housing.”
The need for graduate student housing at SWFREC has increased, and the center has now received enough donations to build a second facility. The groundbreaking will be held Sept. 23, and construction will begin soon thereafter.
Currently, the center has one unit built in 2007 that has space for eight students, a mobile home that houses four students, and a rental home for three students. The new facility will have enough space for eight additional rooms, allowing for 23 students to live at the center while working on their research under the supervision of UF/IFAS faculty members at the research and education center.
“We don’t just provide housing to make it convenient for our students,” said Kelly Morgan, director of the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida REC. “This is a true need because local housing is in short supply and living on center property allows more time to complete research projects by the students and allows our students to complete a greater amount of research in a shorter period of time to earn their degrees from the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. We know this because students are able to conduct their research experiments that answer grower needs faster by living at our facility.”
Ayankojo’s research involves irrigation and nutrient management for tomato plants. Living a five minute walk from his research lab lets him water and care for his plant trials throughout the day. The alternative would be to commute 45 minutes to an hour each way if he didn’t have the on-site housing option. Because Ayankojo lived at the center, this allowed him to complete his research experiments quickly. He earned his master’s degree early and immediately began his Ph.D. at the center.
“Students are typically given projects related to grants obtained by faculty to directly support problems faced by local growers,” Morgan said. “The students conduct the research needed to fulfill the grant requirements and solve local problems.”
More specifically, SWFREC focuses on research and Extension work with citrus, tomatoes and vegetables, especially peppers. Faculty and graduate students are also starting to conduct research on watermelon and cabbage, Morgan said.
Using plots at SWFREC, students and faculty study fungicides and pesticides for insect management and citrus greening, Morgan said. Researchers also study fertilizer and water management for citrus trees and antimicrobials to fight pathogens. In addition, they study microbes to improve the soils that support fruit trees and vegetables.
Graduate students also venture off the campus of SWFREC and work with faculty to conduct research on local farms.
In addition to research experience, most students also get a chance to help faculty with UF/IFAS Extension efforts.
For example, students can help conduct field days based on their research projects on the center’s farm or at local farms. During field days, growers view the field and discuss research outcomes, and students will help answer their questions. They also make presentations at grower meetings offered by UF/IFAS Extension agents or at SWFREC, Morgan said.
“We’ve seen a need for additional graduate student living space at all our research centers across the state,” said Jeanna Mastrodicasa, associate vice president for agriculture and natural resources at UF/IFAS. “We’ve had a lot of faculty hires and that means more graduate students and space to accommodate them. There is limited funding for projects like this, and so we are appreciative of the private donor support that makes a project like this possible.”
If you would like to support the housing project build at SWFREC or one of the other UF/IFAS Research and Education Centers, contact Julie Conn with UF/IFAS Advancement at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-273-2099 for more information.
Media Contacts: Dana Edwards, 352-392-1963, email@example.com
Brad Buck, 813-757-2224, firstname.lastname@example.org
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.