Joey Tardanico, an incoming freshman, won first place in the zoology category in the science competition at the annual state-wide Future Farmers of America (FFA) conference in Orlando in June for a research project sponsored and funded by FIU’s agroecology program.
Tardanico’s project was part of a unique high school summer internship program which brings together talented students and FIU professors to work on agriculture, food and natural resources-related projects. Funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hispanic Serving Institutions Higher (HIS) Education grant, the summer internship program provides research fellowships to high school students and aims to increase the number of students entering into college-level agricultural and natural resources education.
Tardanico received a $1,000 fellowship from the agroecology program as a high school sophomore, with FIU biology professor Suzanne Koptur serving as his mentor on his project, “Moth Species Richness and Urban-Area Habitats.” He will be competing in his respective category at the annual national FFA convention in Indiana in October.
“I was excited to win, but I tried not to be too excited because I knew that I have a lot more work to do to prepare for the national competition,” Tardanico said. “I’ve been doing this project for at least three years, and what I’ve learned most of all is that good research requires a lot of hard, detailed work over a long time.”
Tardanico, who will be a biology major and an agroecology certificate and Honors College student in September, credits Koptur with teaching him about collecting lepidoptera and pinning them for presentation, and providing him with professional research equipment. The FIU research fellowship allowed him to purchase other professional equipment, including a black light moth trap.
Although he has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder, dysgraphia and ADHD, Tardanico doesn’t let that slow him down or interfere with his success.
“I try to take everything in stride,” he explained. “Most people have obstacles to overcome. What’s important is to find your passions and strengths and try to excel in those areas.”
It helps to have a sense of humor, too.
“That’s why I like watching Monty Python and South Park,” Tardanico said.
Now that 18-year-old Tardanico has graduated from the John A. Ferguson Senior High School Biomedical Academy, he’s ready to get involved at FIU.
“I hope to obtain a research internship at Fairchild Tropical Gardens and do field research abroad.”