Alumna finds answers for food security with honeybees

Stephany Alvarez-Ventura ’11 has earned a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded grant after winning first place in the Outstanding Thesis in Food and Agricultural Sciences Competition 2013.

“This came as a real surprise. I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Alvarez-Ventura said. “It’s an honor to represent Hispanic Americans, particularly women, and show we can succeed in the sciences. I have two children and have been able to use a strong family support system to move forward with my work and research.”

The competition was open to any Hispanic individual who has completed a thesis that focuses on food and agricultural sciences. As the first place winner, Alvarez-Ventura will receive a $3,000 cash prize and an all-expense paid trip to the 2013 AAHHE National Conference where she will present her thesis.

Alvarez-Ventura graduated with a master’s in environmental studies from the Department of Earth and Environment and a certificate in biodiversity conservation and management from the College of Arts & Sciences.

Her master’s thesis, “Measuring Impacts of Neem Oil and Amitraz on Varroa Destructor and Apis Mellifera in Different Agricultural Systems of South Florida,” addresses colony collapse disorder of pollinators. An emerging issue in agriculture and food security, this occurs when workerbees abruptly disappear from a beehive. She investigated the effectiveness of various methods for controlling the honeybee parasite Varroa destructor that is believed to play a role in the bees’ disappearance.

“Honeybees are so important to our economy,” Alvarez-Ventura said. “Less than 3 percent of our nation’s population is dedicated to farming. That means we have less people cultivating crops for a growing population. At the same time, apiculture has declined about 50 percent and native pollinator populations are in serious decline. We have trusted honeybees to fill this niche, but given their complex problems, we must develop realistic practical approaches to conserve them. This type of research is important in creating sound farming and beekeeping practices and policies that will better ensure long term food security.”

Alvarez-Ventura’s graduate studies were supported through the USDA’s Hispanic Serving Institutions Education Grants Program awarded to FIU, which funds research, presentations, service-learning activities, internships and professional development workshops. Alvarez-Ventura is currently working as the coordinator for the Agroecology Program. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. and continue research in food security and sustainable agriculture.

“What I’ve gained from this award is realizing if others think I can be successful, then maybe I really can,” Alvarez-Ventura.“Pursuing a Ph.D. wasn’t really at the top of my list at the moment, but having my work and efforts validated this way has been a strong catalyst. My journey to where I am today has been challenging, but it has taught me I can make it.”

The Outstanding Thesis in Food and Agricultural Sciences Competition was sponsored by the Connecting Underrepresented Latinos To Integrate Values and Academic Resources (CULTIVAR) Project. CULTIVAR nurtures students from a graduate degree program to doctoral programs or the workplace through award, mentoring, internship and career preparation programs. It is funded by the USDA, American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), and Texas A&M University.