Featured, News

“Life looks good after graduating from ABAC”

     Everyone has a different reason for attending ABAC. Each story is particular but every story at ABAC hopes to include one common element: graduation. Students spend countless hours studying, creating and stressing for that piece of paper. It is a symbol to the rest of the world that you can commit to a challenge and persevere through it.

     After the walk across the stage, the next step for some is work, for others, continuing their education in grad school. Ryan Weredyk earned his Bachelor’s of Diversified Agriculture degree in May of 2018, graduating Cum Laude. He is now a graduate student and research assistant for the University of Georgia-Tifton campus.

     Ryan is from Guyton, Georgia. It’s about three and a half hours from Tifton. He came to ABAC in the fall of 2014 as a diversified ag major in general ag. “As I progressed throughout my studies, at first I thought I was more interested in the livestock side of things, but I got more interested in crops and vegetables.” Back home his family had cattle, but it wasn’t until he started taking his fruit and vegetable courses that he developed his love for soil.

     He recalls his time at ABAC citing Justin Ng, not only as his academic advisor but also one of his favorite teachers. “He was always a good guy and could tell you anything you needed to know.” Ng described Weredyk as, “a hardworking student who has experience in a wide variety of agriculture from turf care, to scouting to field production. He even tutored younger ag students while he was here.”

     After graduating ABAC, Weredyk didn’t know exactly where he was going next, “I hadn’t been really looking for a job much, but getting my master’s was something that had always been in the back of my mind.” He wanted to enter UGA’s Master’s of Plant Protection and Pest Management (MPPPM). Before he could start the program, he had to return to ABAC during the summer to take a couple of chemistry courses. After finishing the credits, he took the Graduate Record Exam to get into the MPPPM.

Ryan Weredyk inspecting rows of collard greens for his research assistantship at UGA. Weredyk is pursuing a Master’s of Plant Protection and Pest Management. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

     Weredyk has dreams of becoming a county extension agent. Extension offices are a sort of public outreach for anything that has to do with soil. “It’s someone that the farmers or even your everyday gardener can call about their grass or ask for help if something isn’t growing.”

     All extension offices house experts in the field. Agents are required to have a master’s to work. If you can prove that you are being educated for your master’s you can apply to be an agent.

     “A lot of these guys go ahead and get a job in the extension office while they’re working on their masters. It helps you get experience in the field.” He expressed that becoming an extension agent was something he figured out while at ABAC. “I’m the type of person who likes to talk to people, to inform them about things. So, the extension was a way I could talk to not only farmers but everyday people.”

     Currently, Weredyk works as a research assistant in the MPPPM. Through the program, his tuition is covered, he gains work experience and he receives a monthly paycheck. He works under Dr. Alton “Sparky” Sparks. Weredyk said, “The first day I met him I called him, Dr. Sparks and he said, ‘you must be new here. Call me Sparky.’” He also happens to teach Weredyk’s pesticides and transgenic crops course.

     In research with pest management and weed science, there is a constant push in the field to provide the best information. “I had a professor last semester that wrote one of the books for our class. He told us that we shouldn’t use it because it was already outdated,” said Weredyk. He and Sparks are doing research on what is known as, “Hort Hill.”

     The research is in vegetable entomology, which is technical speak for the bugs that target certain crops. Researchers need to learn the best way to get rid of the pests without harming the plants or soil. Weredyk runs trials on different vegetable groups grown to attract a specific insect.

     Currently, they are growing collard greens to study a specific nuisance, the diamondback moth. The moths will tear through the leaves of a collard plant, but what makes them truly annoying is the larvae they leave behind.

     These larvae soon become worms who will do nothing but eat. They are currently a big problem throughout the south, specifically in warmer areas like Tifton. “The problem with the moths is, they are persistent, and they’ve started becoming resistant. A lot of the stuff you used to spray on them doesn’t work anymore. So, we do different trials with different pesticides.”

      The experiment takes place on Hort Hill where they have the plants lined up in the dirt with only a fence separating them and I-75. Each week, Weredyk monitors plants that have been sprayed with the pesticides and watches to see if any leaves get eaten or larvae have developed. They have a control group where nothing is sprayed on the plants. The experiment hinders on the number of leaves that have been affected and the number of larvae found if any. Weredyk must go through and collect data from each plant. “I have to go in and count them one by one. I have to pull them under a microscope and there have been a few times I’ve counted over 100.”

     The experiment isn’t just a way to help combat moth populations, it is a way to actively help the community. “When we can gather all this info, that allows us to accurately inform the extension agents and any growers that are interested. It lets them know that this information is what is really going to work because it’s current.”

Ryan Weredyk discovering a diamondback moth on a collard green plant. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

     Many more experiments like this are being planned for the summer when vegetables have a real chance to grow. They include crops like cucumbers, squash, sweet potatoes and corn.

     Weredyk describes the transition from ABAC to UGA, “here, the classes are more specific. You get a more in-depth look into what you’re studying and you’re doing it with people who really know their stuff.” He says looking back on it now, those classes at ABAC put him on the path he’s on to expand his knowledge even more.

      He says if he can continue in the program he may earn his doctorate somewhere. But he urges that everyone should be cautious about taking the next step after ABAC. “Continuing my education has been an important thing for me, so I may continue, but I don’t know right now. I think it should be a personal thing people decide for themselves. It’s not for everyone.”

     Weredyk’s boss and teacher, Sparky, also gave students a look into what graduate school is like. He warns students that they should look beyond the classes needed to graduate if they plan on getting into grad school. “Students need to be looking into what courses graduate schools require. They may differ from the classes required to graduate. We all focus on getting onto that stage, it comes after.”


Winter Graduation 2018

     Two hundred and sixty-eight students filled the rows of chairs in the Gressette Gym for the 2018 Fall Graduation Ceremony. Some graduates had creative caps, others’ robes were adorned with medals, tassels and sashes. Families gathered on either side of the gym’s bleachers to watch students receive their diplomas. Faculty gathered in seats behind the graduates to watch those they had mentored take the next step into life. President Bridges presided over the event. He introduced this year’s Speaker, The General Surgeon and the Tift Regional Department of Surgery Chair, Dr. Tracy Nolan.

     She described the things she had to overcome as she climbed the ladder of life. Each ring is a step in life, you have to keep moving up. She reminds students to lean on others like a ladder to a house.

     98 students received Associate’s degrees from the fields of Science in Nursing, Music, Arts, Science and Applied Science. The 170 other students finished their Bachelor’s degree in Science, Arts and Sciences, Business and Science in Nursing.

     “It’s always great to have another set of fine additions to the ABAC Alumni,” said President Bridges after the ceremony. Twelve students graduated Cum Laude, finishing with a GPA of 3.5-3.69. Eight students graduated Magna Cum Laude, with a 3.7-3.99 GPA. Only one graduate, John Wesley Helms, earned Summa Cum Laude in this graduating class. His GPA finished as 4.0 or above. He was part of the Honors Program and graduated from the Stafford School of Business.

     “It feels refreshing after four and a half years, it took a lot of hard work and dedication. Many hours of studying, but I’ve always had a passion to exceed,” said Helms. He plans on attending UGA for his Master’s in Business and go into marketing or management. He wants to work in Atlanta someday. Helms described his time with ABAC as, “full of a lot of fun memories, it’s been a really great experience. It was a good adventure to get to go here with the people I have.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Students distribute meals before Thanksgiving

For eight years students at ABAC have put together a food giveaway for families of Tifton, Manna Drop. The first car arrived at Charles Spencer Elementary School at 4:30 a.m. While cars started to wrap around the school, a line of walk-ups began.

A total of 400 bags filled with a five-pound ham, cornbread mix, rice, canned green beans and canned corn. 400 bags were given to vehicles while the other 100 are given out to people directly.

The event was coordinated by five students of ABAC: Lane Riley, Loren Lindler, Jonathan Kroner, Landon Rowe and Cheyenne Colson. They worked throughout the year to get donations. Four-year Manna Drop veteran Lane Riley, says, “around $9,000 are spent by local businesses for the event.”

Students coordinate with business to get donations and volunteers. They work with the Charles Spencer Administration, as well as Tifton Police to organize people and vehicles.
The group is considered a club on ABAC’s campus. Manna Drop advisor, Dr. Tom Grant said, “they work hard every year to bring this all to fruition. They are the ones reaching out to people and getting the word spread.”

The Manna Drop orders food through Publix who also donates the reusable bags that are given to recipients. Colson helped to get ABAC’s Baptist Collegiate Ministries to send volunteers to distribute bags. A total of 17 volunteers including ABAC faculty and students worked the event. Students partnered with Ameris Bank to host a can drive in their business which was added to the bags.

The event was set to start at 10 a.m., but due to the long line of cars accumulating, distribution began early around 9:15 a.m. The 100 walk up bags were all gone within the first 30 minutes. A group of five volunteers including Colson, handed out the bags while wishing every person a “Happy Thanksgiving.” “These things are really important for the community, it’s just a good way to spread a little love for the holidays. A lot of people are thankful we can help them out,” said Colson.

After only an hour and 15 minutes, all 400 bags had been given away. Lindler was counting vehicles and helping to direct traffic during the event. “This is my first year helping out with it, but I was amazed at how many people were getting through the line,” she said.

The group was not surprised by the number of people who were ready for the event. Following the events of Hurricane Michael, more people in Tifton need help for the holidays. “We knew that this was going to be a successful year, Hurricane Michael caused a lot of damage that still isn’t fully repaired,” said Lindler. Once the final bag had been given out, Lindler had to solemnly turn hopeful cars away.

Riley plans to continue Manna Drop next year, “we want to try and get more meals next year, we had a harder time fundraising this year. This is the first year we actually decreased in the number of meals given away.” If you would like to help with the 2019 Manna Drop contact Riley at his email, lriley2@stallion.abac.edu.


TriBeta Honor society students awarded national grant

ABAC students Corey Brooke and Michele Moncrief were awarded first place in a national research grant competition from the Beta Beta Beta Biological Society Research Foundation (TriBeta). The students conducted mentored research under Joanna Gress, assistant professor of Biology and the advisor of ABAC’s TriBeta Biological Honor Society. Their research proposal was entitled, “The effects of nicotine and niacin on chemoreception in fall armyworms, a major pest of sweet corn in the Southeastern United States.”

TriBeta is difficult to become a member of, students must maintain a 3.5 or higher GPA throughout every academic year, must have taken certain prerequisite courses, and be invited to join after a year with the club.

The two students were presented with a $350 grant to continue funding their research. “They will be presenting the results of the project in April in Memphis at the TriBeta Regional Convention at the Association of Southeastern Biologists conference,” said Gress. By then Brooke will be an ABAC biology graduate. “This is something like a gold star for our resume,” said Brooke.

While ABAC’s TriBeta has attended conferences before, this year was their first time entering the competition. “I’m really proud of them, they did so much themselves, I helped when they needed me, but it was all them,” said Gress.

At the Southeastern Entomological Society of America in Orlando, Brooke and Moncrief presented their research poster which got a lot of attention. “We were doing stuff that isn’t for undergraduate students,” said Moncrief. The experiment involved tracking forced physiological changes in the worms caused by the chemicals in nicotine and niacin.

The objective was to learn how they could disrupt the worms’ ability to detect correctly what it is touching. The chemicals become a sort of repellent. The students had to become familiar with a program that isn’t used by anybody else on campus. “We aren’t an R1 research institution, so technically we aren’t supposed to have it [a DNA sequence. But it was difficult learning this multi-thousand dollar machine and just hoping I don’t break something,” said Brooke. Only a few in the biology department have the knowledge to work the program including Gress.

The students spent much of their presentation explaining the technical side of things instead of the research itself. “It’s something that not a lot of students get to experience, especially undergraduates. When we were there, somebody assumed we were doing doctoral research,” said Moncrief.

Gress says that doing mentored research is pretty important for any science major. “If you can get the opportunity to do research, you should take it. We can’t guarantee that you will win a national prize, but it is something that will help you if you want to continue your education or get a job. It’s a valuable skill to have and it looks really good on any application.”
If you would like to know more about TriBetta or mentored research, contact Joanna Gress at jgress@abac.edu.


A wonderful tribute to Freddie Mercury

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a love letter to the members of Queen, their music, and the life of Freddie Mercury. It depicts some of the most memorable moments in the band’s career. Queen guitarist, Brian May, and drummer, Roger Taylor, consulted on making the film. They crafted the film to highlight Freddie as an icon so the rest of the band become secondary characters.

Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy play Brian May and Roger Taylor respectively. Joseph Mazzello plays bassist John Deacon and Rami Malek plays the enigmatic frontman. Aidan Gillen plays Queen manager John Reid and Lucy Boynton plays Mercury’s lifelong friend and partner Mary Austin. Mike Myers makes a fun cameo appearance as EMI executive Ray Foster who drove the band away over the single, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’

As a movie, it is nothing groundbreaking. If you have ever seen a rockumentary before, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is nothing new. It is fun and it’s characters carry the story. Malek will no doubt be in award conversations for his performance in this film. That being said, we all knew that Mercury would be the main focal point of the film yet, the film does nothing to help us really get to know the singer on a deeper level.

I would like to have seen more moments of Mercury’s inner thoughts. We see a lot of montages of the bands rise to success, their stardom, and their falling out. There are a lot of montages given as expositional fillings. It leaves the film needing a true antagonist beyond the self-destructive behavior of a famous figure.

Not to say that the film is rushed. The first act does move quickly, we see the band form and their first performance where we see Mercury’s iconic broken mic stand. After that, there is a montage of the band performing at bigger and bigger crowds. It slows down to show makings of key songs like, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” During this point, we do get a funny cameo from Mike Myers who argues on whether the classic song should be the album’s single. He suggests that the single be, “I’m in love with my car.” Myers says, “It’s a song teenagers can sit in their car and headbang to or whatever they do.” It brings Myer’s iconic  “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene from “Wayne’s World” full circle in a joke that even works with the movie.

The greatest moments in the film come from Queen’s music and Malek’s ability to capture the screen. The concert recreations bring songs we’ve seen made to life and help us to see Mercury’s talent on stage. All these moments help to move the film along but it does leave the story to become generic.

As the plot progresses we see the personal relationships that Mercury and group cultivate like his partner and lifelong friend, Mary Austin. Mercury’s coming out to her is quickly brought up and resolved. We see them become friends, even moving into a home next to Mercury. Their relationship does help add tension in the later years as Mercury becomes jealous of her new husband and family.

Beyond the relationships he creates and Queen’s rise and fall, there is not much else to constitute a story. The only antagonist is Mercury himself. We do see a little backstabbing happen between Mercury’s lover, Paul, and the rest of the group. He acts as the Yoko Ono for Queen. But again, his subplot is brought and somewhat quickly resolved, as their relationship ends when Paul does not inform Mercury of Live Aid. Mary Austin helps Mercury rid of Paul and begin to love himself.

The movie relies heavily on the talent of Malek and Queen’s music to entertain audiences. The former band members serving as producers make the film do little to criticize Mercury as a man. It instead chooses to focus on the aspects of him as a person and the music that made him an icon. It is nothing that needs to be seen in theatres but I recommend you get it when it’s available to buy. I’d give the film a 6.9, Malek’s performance drives the film and it is as entertaining as singing Queen karaoke. It does feel a little empty as a story and the film does not let you savor some of the best parts of the film. The film is available at the Tift AMC in the mall parking lot.