Senior hooked on aquaculture center work

By Erica Sullivan

Jake Bledsoe

Photo by Erica Sullivan

Jake Bledsoe, a senior fisheries and aquatic sciences major from Forest, Ind., is passionate about water. That's why he works more than 20 hours a week at the Animal Sciences Research and Education Center Aquaculture Unit. ​Full-size image (436 KB)

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Jake Bledsoe has always been drawn to water. Whether he's canoeing in his spare time or feeding fish at the Purdue research ponds where he works, Bledsoe finds joy in being outdoors and near lakes, ponds and rivers.

When he pours a bucket of feed in a fish pond, his reflection shows a smiling, hardworking farm kid. His hands are dirty from cleaning fish tanks and fixing things around the farm. The senior fisheries and aquatic sciences major from Forest, Ind., is passionate about his work at the Animal Sciences Research and Education Center Aquaculture Unit.

"Ever since I was a kid I've always preferred being outside and around nature," Bledsoe said. "So it makes sense that I study what I do. I love being on the water. That's what got me into this."

Bledsoe grew up taking weekend trips to the lake — he could never get enough water. He was a teenager when his family purchased 15 acres of land with 22 ponds. His family looked to Purdue Extension educators to get advice about how to manage the property. Although he and his family began learning about fish ponds, it would take a few years (and a few majors) before Bledsoe was hooked on studying aquaculture.

"I jumped majors a lot and made the best of it," said Bledsoe. "I was lost in college my freshman year, but I changed my career path and now I love it. Not only is it enjoyable, but it gives me a more practical understanding of what I study when I actually put the knowledge to use."

But it's not all work for Bledsoe, who said he enjoys coming to work each day.

"It's also fun just working with everybody at the lab and seeing some of the cool projects that go on at the Aquaculture Research Lab," he said. "The funnest part of my job is being able to work outside and with my hands in a way that relates to what I am studying."

Each morning Bledsoe drives a few miles off campus, away from the traffic and noise, and goes to work at the lab. He has many duties, including feeding fish and cleaning the lab. He's also responsible for conducting undergraduate research. Bledsoe is thirsty for answers to important questions, such as how pollution affects aquatic habitats.

"One of my projects involved studying the effects of TFM, a chemical used in the Great Lakes and other bodies of water to reduce the population of lamprey, a parasitic, worm-like fish," said Bledsoe.

Bledsoe investigated whether the chemical made some fish more prone to predators. This was just one of several research projects that he was involved with. Balancing school and work has taught Bledsoe how to manage his time and enjoy his major.

"I do have to sacrifice some of my time to be able to work while in school, but it pays off," said Bledsoe, who puts in 20 hours a week at the farm. "We do a lot of new things at work. As soon as things start to get boring, a new project comes up in the lab, keeping things interesting. Also, sometimes work is a good place to get away from the stresses of class work."

When Bledsoe is out on the pond he can reflect on school and life in general. This time helps him reel in information he's learned from class and use it in the work place.

"It is nice to be able to put to use the things I learn in class," said Bledsoe. "It makes for better learning and makes the learning seem more worthwhile."

And Bledsoe is always working on something. Getting paid to do what he loves is a perk of being a student researcher. Another is that the work prepares him for a career.

"I want to travel," said Bledsoe. "But I may go home and start an aquaculture operation there."

Facility home to many fields of research

Purdue's Animal Science Research and Education Center is a 1,500-acre farm that provides opportunities for students and scientists to conduct research.

The facility is home to several units, including dairy (where Sarah Ellingwood works), aquaculture (where Jake Bledsoe works), beef, poultry, sheep, swine and others. Many disciplines conduct work at the site, including the Departments of Animal Sciences, Forestry and Natural Resources, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Agronomy.

Part-time students work a combined 500 hours per week across many units, according to the center's website. That represents a lot of practical, hands-on experience.​