Originally, Senior Austin Lien thought he would spend his days soaring above the field, but his interest in ag-related research is going to keep him much closer to the ground.
Lien grew up in Fisher, Minn., and attended the University of Minnesota Crookston first as a post-secondary enrollment option student. After graduating from Fisher High School, he headed to Duluth to work on a two-year degree in aviation. However, Lien would change his path and finish his associate degree in liberal arts and return to Crookston for a bachelor’s degree. Classes in the sciences, like botany and plant pathology, took him into the lab and introduced him to what he really likes to do—research.
He began working with Assistant Professor Ashok Chanda and Research Fellow Jason Brantner in the Northwest Research and Outreach Center (NWROC) in October 2014 on sugar beet research. An opportunity for an internship at Cornell University in New York was brought to his attention by Assistant Professor Kristie Walker and his advisor Rob Proulx in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department. Lien was one of 20 selected from the 80 applicants for the research internship.
One of the first days he was at Cornell, he found himself hoeing table beets. “I left the farm here only to go and hoe beets in New York,” he smiles. But, his internship would require more than weeding, Lien would study effective management of plant-parasitic nematodes. To say he enjoyed his time at Cornell is an understatement. “My summer in New York was probably my best summer yet,” he continues.
When he returned to campus for fall semester, he also returned to the NWROC. In the final weeks of the semester, he presented his research work with the Research Center during a student/faculty research day that took place during Thursday Commons. Lien shared results from his study of the effect of spent lime, a by-product of the sugar refining process, when applied to the soil and the result on root rot in the production of sugar beets.
All this research has solidified the future for Lien. He will graduate at the end of the semester and head to Colorado for a semester off and a chance to snowboard and work on the mountain. “Before he goes, his applications to graduate school will be complete and he will be waiting to hear from them as he makes decisions on his future in the study of plant pathology.
Lien has worked since he was thirteen years old in a range of jobs including dishwashing, bee keeping, as snowboard instructor, and in a greenhouse. The jobs kept him grounded and taught him the value of work. It also seems to have carried over to the classroom where he would much work in the lab to learn about a topic rather than read about it. He has particularly enjoyed classes from Lecturer Ranjit Riar, Ph.D. “I like what Ranjit brought to the classroom,” Lien says. “He has a lot of worldwide experience in agriculture and his expectations were high for his students. I enjoyed his classes and he was the one who told me about the opportunity at the NWROC.”
When he finds time or rather as he makes time, Lien enjoys playing piano and guitar. Associate Professor George French encouraged him to finish his minor in music, which Lien decided to do. “I like to play and I sing in the choir,” he says. “I find it a great way to de-stress and I think music helps me observe things differently.”
While Lien is in his final days at the U of M Crookston, he is on secure footing for the steps he will take ahead, and it seems he will be soaring above the rest of the field and in no need of a plane to do it.