Students use classwork, previous research experience to secure internship at FoodChain

Posted by Centre News in Internships, News 13 Aug 2015

chainFor three Centre College students, engaging in an off-campus internship opportunity this summer has sparked an interest in aquaponics and food science that they say has informed their future careers and post-grad paths.

Christopher Brittain ’16, Lucas Do ’16 and Marie-Veronique Poirier ’16 are working with FoodChain, a small non-profit in Lexington, Ky., that is dedicated to producing and educating about local food. They are primarily working with the startup’s aquaponics system that grows tilapia and a variety of hydroponic plants together indoors.

Brittain and Do first began experimenting with small-scale aquaponics—which combines conventional aquaculture with hydroponics—under Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Brett Werner’s supervision last summer. They then developed a research internship at FoodChain with help from Assistant Professor of Philosophy Daniel Kirchner.

“After learning about and touring FoodChain in Kirchner’s ‘Food Ethics’ class, we reached out to work with them as research interns for the summer,” Do explains.

Their daily work at FoodChain is generally divided into two parts: general maintenance and system design for the aquaponics system. Work on the system can mean anything from transplanting fresh lettuce plants to cleaning the biofilters and fish tanks.

They also assist in any way they can with FoodChain’s other activities, as the non-profit is “such a small operation,” Do says.

“Right now, we’re working on writing grants for funding renovations for the tilapia nursery, as well as working on designing and installing the upgraded plumbing and filter for the nursery,” he explains.

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The aquaponics system at FoodChain.

Poirier enjoys working with what she calls the system’s “oddly charismatic” fish, while Brittain relishes seeing the work he and Do began last summer come full-circle. They spent a great deal of time building a bell siphon for their aquaponics system while researching with Kirchner and made many modifications to the system when they instituted it at FoodChain.

“I think the happiest I’ve been at FoodChain was watching the bell siphon we built work and coming back later in the week to see it still working,” he says. “Unlike the other tasks we work on, like cleaning the system and harvesting the plants and fish, this task allowed me to use some knowledge I had to solve a problem.”

Their time at the non-profit has given Brittain, Do and Poirier valuable insight into the fields they plan to pursue after graduation.

“I’ve been pretty set on some sort of environmental career for the last several years, but that’s still a huge field to be interested in,” Do says. “The work I’ve been doing at FoodChain has given me invaluable experience in the non-profit sector, and I already feel more confident that I’ll be able to make a difference in the field.”

All three feel as though the classes they’ve taken and other internships they’ve completed while at Centre provided them with the skills to succeed at FoodChain.

“Prior internships I have gained through Centre—like a medical internship in Merida, a semester-long internship at Parsons Student Health Center and research in pharmacology and nutritional sciences at the University of Kentucky—have helped me be open to new experiences, and adapt quickly to new work environments,” Poirier says.

Do shares this sentiment, saying that the learning environment at Centre has shaped his “general attitude” for the better.

“Helping to build and run an aquaponics system has required learning about everything from nitrifying bacteria to the Lexington city council grant application process,” he concludes. “Feeling confident in my ability to learn about different fields has largely been a result of going to Centre.”

pictured above: Marie-Veronique Poirier ’16, Lucas Do ’16 and Christopher Brittain ’16 at FoodChain in Lexington, Ky.

by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
August 13, 2015