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Valley of the Sun turns into valley of success for CSB/SJU students

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February 15, 2017

By Mike Killeen

Back row left to right: Joe Storlien, Asst. Prof. Environ. Studies, Alec Minea, Pearce Jensen

Front row left to right: Sarah McLarnan, Skylar Peyton, Leah Ellman

The Phoenix metropolitan area is often referred to as the Valley of the Sun. But it recently turned out to be a valley of academic success for students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.

Five students from CSB and SJU had their scholarly research displayed at the 2016 American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America International Annual Meeting in November in Phoenix.

Three students captured first-place finishes in the research symposium contest, and a fourth student placed second.

  • CSB senior Sarah McLarnan won the “Water and Environmental Quality” section with a poster, “Analysis of Water and Sediment from Plum Creek to Investigate Potential Sources of Fecal Contamination.” McLarnan is a biology and environmental studies double-major from Victoria, Minnesota.
  • SJU senior Alec Minea won the “Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry” section with a poster, “Analysis and Treatment of Chlorotic Quercus Spp. at Saint John’s University in Central Minnesota.” Minea is a political science and environmental studies double-major from Plymouth, Minnesota.
  • CSB senior Leah Ellman won the “Soils and Soil Quality” section with a poster, “Soil Trace Gas Emission Across Landscape Transition from Agricultural Field to Riparian Buffer.” Ellman is a natural science major from Rochester, Minnesota.
  • CSB senior Skylar Peyton placed second in the “Water and Environmental Quality” section with a poster, “Soil Phosphorus Accumulation Following 12 Years of Biosolids Application to Continuous Corn Cropping System in Central Minnesota.” Peyton is an environmental studies major from West Point, Nebraska.
  • SJU senior Pearce Jensen also had his research on “Relationship Between Fecal Bacteria and Water Quality Parameters in Plum Creek, Clearwater, Minnesota” on display. Jensen is an environmental studies major from Hutchinson, Minnesota.

A total of 52 posters were on display covering five sections. McLarnan, Minea and Ellman each received $240 and a certificate for winning their respective sections.

“Overall, I was completely blown away at how our students absolutely dominated the competition,” said Joe Storlien, assistant professor of environmental studies at CSB and SJU who served as an adviser to all five of the students. “I don’t recall ever seeing a single school dominate in the poster competition like this. I’m really excited for the whole group.

“Our students came from the smallest school in the competition and were competing against many students from a lot of very large, research-intensive schools like Cornell, Purdue, BYU, the University of Texas at Austin, Iowa State and Arizona State,” Storlien said. “Despite coming from a small school, we still produce award-winning research that receives national recognition.

“Our students are engaged with many excellent research projects right here at CSB/SJU,” he added. 

Each poster was judged by at least three faculty judges. The students were independently scored by each judge using a rubric.

The students also had to submit an abstract in May 2016. Each abstract was reviewed and approved for entry into the contest by August.

Approximately 4,000 people from 56 different countries made just over 2,800 presentations (oral and posters) at the conference.