Agribusiness Department

College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences

Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)



During the summer of 2017, several AGB students took part in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), funded by the CAFES Dean’s Office.


Dr. Ricky Volpe advised two AGB seniors, Brent Jarvis and Kaelyn Hayes. Brent examined how proposed regulatory changes in California, e.g. minimum wage increases, might affect both the grocery industry and the state economy. Kaelyn studied the economic impact of recent mergers and acquisitions in the CA grocery industry, e.g. the purchase of Smart & Final by Ares Management. Our students prepared posters summarizing their research and took part in the poster session on August 31 at the Performing Arts Center. Both projects are parts of a large, longer-term study of the economic impact of California grocers, which is partially funded by the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation.


Dr. Lindsey Higgins worked with Agribusiness junior, Jenna Nichol, on a SURP research project designed to isolate the differences in strengths among undergraduate agriculture students. Along with CAFES Academic Advisor, Rachel Johnson, Dr. Higgins and Jenna worked with a dataset of over 2,000 students that identified their major, how/when they were admitted to Cal Poly, their gender, as well as their top five signature themes from the Clifton Strengths for Students assessment. Jenna’s research involved testing for statistical differences between different groups within the sample and developing strengths profiles that can be used to better understand undergraduate agriculture students.


Dr Xiaowei Cai worked with two AGB students this summer. Jacob Paul studied the factors that influenced the profitability of Almond industry in California. Austin Cosgrove compared the California farmland investment growth opportunities with the stock market in the last decade.


Agribusiness students Melissa Quintero and Julien Farasat, under the guidance of Dr. Neal MacDougall and Dr. Eivis Qenani, used a case study approach to examine the different strategies used by two California companies - Tanimura and Antle and Christopher Ranch when dealing with labor shortages. Persistent labor shortages have prompted California companies to search for various solutions, like labor-savings mechanization, wage increases, housing, transportation etc.  Through this research, students gained practical insights by observing up-close the decision making process in the face of labor shortages of two successful agribusiness companies.


Dr. Delbridge worked with two students this summer; Drew Allen and Elan Sherman. Drew Allen worked on a project exploring the economic feasibility of novel automated strawberry processing technology. Through consultation with the Cal Poly Strawberry Center and the California Strawberry Commission he developed a mathematical optimization model to find the cost minimizing processing strategy for a range of strawberry prices and machinery efficiency values. Elan Sherman explored ways in which businesses can responsibly incorporate Native American artistic and cultural capital into product development and marketing strategies. Through analysis of four companies that handle this issue differently, along with interviews with Native American business and community leaders, he identified characteristics of successful marketing strategies that were also supportive of Native American communities.


During the 2017 Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), Dr. Christiane Schroeter advised Hannah Hank, Sophomore in Agribusiness. Dr. Schroeter and Hannah examined how teamwork could be used to enhance information literacy of agribusiness databases. An ‘information-literate’ student recognizes the need for information and is able to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the needed information. While information literacy and critical thinking skills are of increasing importance in agribusiness research, formal incorporation of information literacy in undergraduate programs is still developing. At the same time, companies across the U.S. have experienced increased difficulties finding applicants who are able to communicate clearly and work on a team with their co-workers. Dr. Lindsey Higgins and Dr. Christiane Schroeter have been working on this project in their introductory undergraduate agribusiness marketing course (AGB 301- Food and Fiber Marketing), where students work in teams on a term project that is rooted in information literacy. As a final course project, student groups of up to four team members analyze the marketing and supply chain of a readily available branded food product. AGB 301 students are invited to complete a survey to assess the student’s individual information literacy abilities at both the beginning and end of the term. Thus, during the Summer of 2017, Dr. Schroeter and Hannah analyzed the data from these course surveys. Findings suggest that the AGB 301 team project may enhance the students’ knowledge of the agribusiness information literacy concepts, especially when the group showcases a variety of students such as low-performers and high-performers. Low-performing students may have improved their knowledge and overall group performance with the help of a high performer. This "ripple effect" may advance the positive impact of teamwork. These research findings suggest that teamwork is an additional tool to enhance critical thinking - a valued skill among new hires.

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