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Mariah K. Stollar Awan - Graduate Ag Research Spotlight

I’m motivated by the Extension mission, because it’s all about bringing nonbiased information to real people and real communities and changing lives for the better.

- Mariah K. Stollar Awan, PhD student, Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication

The student

Growing up with her family’s agritourism business, Sweetapple Farm in southeastern Ohio, Mariah Stollar Awan saw firsthand the impact of teaching others about agriculture as they experienced the farm. Her 4-H background and affinity for working with people took Awan to Ohio State, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture, majoring in community leadership and specializing in Extension education. She planned to become an Extension educator like her grandfather and two uncles, but her Ohio State mentors encouraged her to consider graduate study and Extension work at the state level. Her path became clearer when one of those mentors accepted a faculty appointment with Penn State Extension and offered to supervise Awan’s master’s study there. After she completed her MS in Agricultural and Extension Education in May 2020, her husband joined the Purdue faculty, and the couple moved to Indiana. After a couple of years, she says, “It felt like the right time to apply to the ASEC department at Purdue, since we were settled here.” She started her doctoral work in August 2022 under the advisorship of Hui Hui Wang, associate professor of agricultural sciences education and communication. Awan says of Wang, “She does a good job of guiding me, while also letting me be creative.”

THE RESEARCHASEC graduate students from left to right, Mavis Akom, Swagata Sakar, Awan and Austin Jenkins

Awan’s wide-ranging research reflects her interest in STEM education; leadership development for all ages; mindfulness; and developing, implementing and evaluating Extension programs. She currently leads a study with McCutcheon High School on science identity and STEM career interest — how lessons developed in collaboration with high school teachers impact whether students see themselves as scientists or in science careers. Awan also is contributing to a multidisciplinary, AgSEED-supported project to develop, implement and evaluate a 4-H Academy program for high school students that promotes career exploration in forensic sciences. She and Wang conducted a study that asked Purdue Extension educators what program evaluation skills they wanted to learn more about. Based on their responses, Awan taught a workshop on nominal group technique at Purdue Extension’s Professional Development Conference in December 2023. And she and two other graduate students in the department are collaborating with Tippecanoe County 4-H Educator Dee Nicley on a STEM day camp for 4-H members. In a pilot last summer, 11 middle-schoolers came to the ASEC lab on campus to learn about soil and forensic sciences; the second iteration of the camp will be held in June 2024.

opportunities

Awan was not expecting to have an opportunity to present at an American Association for Agricultural Education, North Central Region conference her first year. “It felt like coming home,” she says. “I saw so many people I used to work with at Ohio State and Penn State at that conference, and it made me feel like I did the right thing continuing on this path.” In addition to seven oral and 14 poster presentations, she has published 11 journal articles and two conference papers; co-authored Extension publications on such topics as mindfulness, volunteerism, coaching and mentoring, and program evaluation; and presented workshops and seminars to Extension educators and clients.

future plansmariah-k-stollar-awan-01.jpg

Awan plans to complete her PhD in August 2026. Because she is drawn equally to research and Extension, she might then search for a position as an Extension specialist or faculty member with an Extension appointment. She enjoys spending leisure time with her husband and two children under age 2. “I think work-life balance is important,” she says. “As a mindfulness educator, I need to be mindful of that myself.“ She awakens early to make time for yoga and working out.

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