Gilbert learns about crop, soil health during summer internship

A photo of Ricki Gilbert

When the opportunity to intern with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service presented itself this summer, Ricki Gilbert rolled up her sleeves and dug right in. Gilbert, an agriculture technology major at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, studied cotton crops and soil health during her internship with the Cooperative Extension Service at the Newport Extension Center.

“I was excited for the chance to intern,” Gilbert said. “I know some who have walked into the jobs they currently have because of internships. It also gives you an opportunity to see if you like the profession and if you will work well with the employer.”

Gilbert had a previous connection with Dr. Bill Robertson, cotton extension agronomist, which helped lead to her internship at the extension center. “I met him and his wife through 4-H showing sheep at the state fair,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said had early aspirations of being a veterinarian. “But I discovered in high school that I wasn’t cut out to be a vet,” she said, “so I had to change my focus. I really enjoyed my plant science classes and love seeing plants grow. I want to work with the National Resource Conservation Service, and this internship really opened my eyes to what that would be like. I learned about cover crops and no-till crops [both promoted by NRCS] and got to see how those crops really work and the difference between the two.”

The internship required Gilbert be up some mornings at 4:30 a.m. to arrive to work on time. Among her duties, Gilbert learned about the different stages throughout the cotton plant’s life cycle, how to set up soil and moisture sensors, taking accurate plant counts, and pest control.  She was also exposed to conducting applied agronomic research in producer fields relating to irrigation timing, fertility, and variety performance testing.  Gilbert also had the opportunity to present a poster at the national meeting of the Soil Health Institute held in Albuquerque, N.M. during the internship on an applied soil health demonstration she conducted.

Robertson said Gilbert’s interest in soil health helped steer the focus of her internship. “Ricki has an interest in soil health, which is a big factor for NRCS. It helped us design an internship geared towards her goals and where she wants to be down the road. She was able to be involved in some of the things we do to improve soil health, measure and monitor our environmental footprint, work with farmers, and implement best practices,” he said.

Gilbert, a Batesville native, graduated from Batesville High School in 2016. She had a familiarity with UACCB long before she chose to attend as her mother also attended the college. “My mother was a student here. I would come here with her and play on the computer while she was taking classes,” Gilbert said. 

Gilbert said she plans to transfer to Arkansas State University after graduating from UACCB to pursue her bachelor’s degree in plant/soil science. She’s keeping her eye out for additional internship opportunities and hopes to intern with the NRCS in the future.