Hiking my Own Hike

Faces: Yan Yan title

Yan Yan | Crop and Soil Science | Chongqing, China 

OSU Hiking Club President | CAS Ambassador | Class of 2022

First-generation female college student in the US

Top prize for Branch Experiment Station Research Poster/Presentation

for the 2020 CAS Undergraduate Research Showcase 


I Want to Know

I have always held a passion for plants and been curious about where our food comes from. I originally came from Chongqing, China. It is one of the largest and most populated cities in China. I lived in the downtown area straight in the center of the concrete jungle. When I was on the plane to Portland at the age of 14, I was utterly amazed by the lush city covered in green. These two cities all have their own unique beauty, and I love both of them deeply. The plants in Portland look completely different from my hometown. The thought of ‘I want to know what they are’ started to emerge from my head. 

Fascinated with Flora

After I entered OSU, I found the opportunity to work for Dr. Linda Hardison in her Oregon Flora Project as a herbarium curatorial assistant. I was so excited about this great opportunity. I was able to look through the half-million plant specimen and talk to the intelligent professors and students in the OSU herbarium. Dr. Linda assigned me to collect data from plants in Asteraceae and Fabaceae and then use the data to develop the Oregon Floral app. The app was incredible because it allowed ordinary people to identify plants with minimal botanical knowledge. If I had this app when I was younger, I could have known all the plants in Portland. I was thrilled because I knew what I did at OSU could benefit the general public. In the future, I will continue to use my knowledge to benefit society. I am confident that the study program helped me obtain the necessary knowledge I need for my educational and career goals

A Live Classroom

I am a first-generation female college student in the US in my family. Although my mother has her bachelor’s degree in China, my father only got his middle school diploma. My journey to college was not easy. I was addicted to video games after I came to the US because I did not speak English and had difficulty forming normal conversations with people in school. My family has faced financial struggles. Not everyone in the family understands the importance of going to college. I have been told by them to quit school to find a restaurant job or join the military. My mother, who is still in China, provided me with some financial support, and her warm language made me decide to go to college. With the support from society, OSU, and my mother, I am now able to study what I am passionate about in school.

When I was a little girl in China, my mother took me on hikes. She taught me about the plants and animals on the mountains, told me the folklores behind the trails, and gave me valuable life lessons. After I came to the US, I started to live with my father, and he became the one who took me on hikes around Portland. We both did not speak English at that time. Going on hikes was a way we connected with nature and shared common ground with other people. My hobby of going outdoors ceased for a while because I did not have a car and had just started to get familiar with college life. However, I enjoyed walking around campus and staring at the plants. I am very passionate about nature. I enjoy the great outdoors and use it as a live classroom. 

Starting from Scratch

In the summer of my freshmen year, I had a car and went to Hermiston, Oregon to conduct research. I would go on hikes with my friends at the research station on the weekend. We supported each other and shared experiences during the hike. After COVID hit, I realized how difficult it is to find friends on hikes without face-to-face interaction. The idea of starting a hiking club began to emerge in my head. I wanted to create a place where people can make memories that last a lifetime and build special bonds with each other. I gathered a couple of friends and started the OSU Hiking Club. Starting a new club from scratch was not easy. I got tremendous help from OSU and our excellent club advisor. With the collective effort from our club officers and mine, we achieved 100+ members in less than three months. What a great achievement for a newly started club!

The club officers and I organized two group hiking trips with our club members. The journey to McDonald Forest was memorable. I led a group of 20 students up to Peavy Peak and saw gorgeous views on our hike. One of the club officers taught the members about geocaching and led them to find the ‘treasure’ under a forest bridge. Then, we visited the log yard managed by the Forestry club and learned about their logging sport. I have always wanted the hiking club to be an educational space where people can learn from nature and each other. We also invited several guest speakers to increase people’s awareness of our surrounding hiking trails.

Hiking in High Spirits 

We formed a great relationship with Corvallis Parks and Rec and are now discussing adopting a park program to further provide services to our community. I also helped the Hiking Club receive the Alternative Spring Break Scholarship from the American Hiking Society. In the upcoming spring break, I will lead a group of club members to Moran State Park in Washington to participate in a volunteer service project for a week. During one of our group hikes, I had a club member ask me if I am the best hiker in the club because I am the president of the Hiking Club. 

I smiled and said, "No, I am not the most outstanding and most experienced hiker. I am also not the most ambitious hiker who wants to challenge the steepest and longest trail. As the president of the hiking club, I am the one who can organize people with a common interest to explore the great outdoors and provide them with logistic support. When I am on hikes with the club members, I am the one who keeps the group together, safe, and in high spirits." 

My Source of Power

CAS provided me with the opportunity to become a College of Agricultural Sciences ambassador to serve the college and express my strong recognition with the current and prospective students. I found out about this opportunity through the emails sent out by our college advisor and major advisor. Before applying, I was not confident in my communication and presentation skills. As someone not from an English-speaking country, I was nervous and questioned my own ability. My mom was my source of power. She encouraged me to apply for this position. She told me my solid interpersonal skills are the key to becoming a successful ambassador. I took her advice and then was later accepted into the ambassador team. I met eight other amazing ambassadors, and we then formed a great team and started working through a common goal. Through the spring term ambassador training, interactions with my teammates, and lots of practice on my own, I became a much better, more qualified, and more confident ambassador. My favorite ambassador activity is the natural science tour every Friday. I meet with the prospective students and their parents from different parts of the US and the world and give them a tour around the campus.The tour includes information about the majors. I also blend in personal experiences and fun facts about the college to make the tour memorable and informative. I feel rewarded and satisfied after seeing the students and parents relieved after the tour.



The ambassador program also allowed me to attend the 2022 World Ag Expo. I was excited to see so many prospective students, high schoolers, alums, and visitors come to the OSU booth. I engaged with the booth visitors and shared my passion for agriculture and OSU. I had an excellent opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds and all over the world. Being an ambassador is a channel for me to use and share my own experience in OSU to guide, direct, inform, and teach prospective students about life as a Beaver in CAS. I also enjoy serving the college by representing the college. I think it is a way to return to the OSU community. The ambassador opportunity also significantly improves my professional skills. I can feel enhancements in my confidence and communication skills. It is also a unique opportunity for me to have an outstanding university experience because I meet all sorts of fantastic people.

Producing Potato Procedures

The experience of conducting research under the Branch Experiment Station program in CAS was precious and exciting for me. I interned for Dr. Qin Ruijun in the agronomy lab at Hermiston Agriculture and Research Extension Center in the summer of 2019 and 2020. I assisted and led our research team that conducted multiple research projects related to hemp, wheat, potato, and beans. My 2019 project helped farmers in the Columbia Basin form a comprehensive nutrition guideline for the new potato varieties. I enjoyed doing such rigorous and meaningful research. I am glad to know my research result will directly affect the farmers. Farmers in the Columbia Basin are highly interested in the new potato varieties, but they still have limited nutrient fertilization information on the new varieties. My research results helped the farmers develop nutrient guidelines for each specific variety, allowing growers to achieve optimal potato production with tailored fertilizer rates. After returning to Corvallis, I compiled my research findings into a poster. I presented it in the Fall 2019 College of Agricultural Sciences Showcase to educate my peers and share my joy of research.

The Branch Experiment Station is my first research experience in the real world. This experience provided a powerful learning environment because I was surrounded by intelligent students and faculty and constantly learning from them. This experience also took me beyond what is taught in the classroom. I could apply what I learned to my research and learn new things in the fields. I have become more efficient in time management and can think more pragmatically. These skills that I learned during the research experience will benefit me beyond college. I also formed scholarly and personal relationships with my peers and professors. By conducting research in the field of Agronomy with my mentor, I have confirmed that Agronomy is something I am truly passionate about and want to devote my whole life to as my future career.

Pandemic Problems

In the spring of 2020, Dr. Qin contacted me again. He expressed satisfaction with my past work and asked me to work for him in the summer. I gladly accepted his offer, but things changed faster than expected. The pandemic came and changed the lives of everyone. My boyfriend’s family wished that I would stay in their Chinese restaurant to help because they needed waitresses who could speak Chinese and English. My family also warned me multiple times about the potential risk of working in person and at a far distance from home. Although I fully understood the risk, my research passion still drove me to fulfill Dr. Qin's promise. Finding housing was difficult, but I was lucky enough to stay in the living room of Dr. Qin’s new postdoc. I continued my work of collecting samples from fields and analyzing the samples in the lab. The agronomy lab faced many difficulties due to COVID-19. We were short on workers, could not get our equipment on time, met unstable working conditions, and so on. I was able to manage all the tasks and get them done right. After September, all the professors on the station, including Dr. Qin, were recommended to work remotely by the station director because Umatilla county was at high risk of COVID. Working with only written instruction was difficult, but our lab made it through. The major forest fire also worried everyone on the station. When the alert was over, we got permission to work outside, so we rushed to our potato field and harvested a crop to obtain the most accurate research data. After going through many difficulties, our agronomy lab finished multiple experiments and field trials with my assistant. I led temporary workers, harvested the field samples, then properly processed and analyzed them.

The Bluegrass Blues

There were also difficult times and struggles during research. My 2020 project is related to the relationship between plant growth regulator tranexamic-ethyl (TE) and Kentucky bluegrass. Due to the pandemic, I arrived at the experiment station much later than expected. At the time of my arrival, the bluegrasses were ready for harvest. I didn’t have the chance to see the growth of the plants myself. I was left with a large set of data that represented the growth of the bluegrass. The complexity of the data set was out of my control. I bravely reached out to Dr. Lu, the postdoc in our lab, and expressed my concerns with Dr. Qin. They provided me with the help I needed. I also searched many resources for help and finally got the data analyzed. I took my data and compared it with Dr. Qin’s experiment results last year. I surprisingly found that some parts of my results were completely the opposite of Dr. Qin’s results. 

I discussed such confusion with Dr. Lu and Dr. Qin for guidance. I also looked through many research papers to find potential explanations for my confusion. At the time, I thought my research project might be a total failure. I found a paper related to another crop that said TE may lose its effectiveness during certain times, and it provided a couple of potential influence factors for TE duration. I followed through with this clue and did more digging about the effect of the environment on TE other than bluegrass. I also checked the importance of the timing of the TE application. After all the hard work and a series of problem-solving, I put together a draft then perfected it along with Dr. Qin. Then, I use my report as my blueprint to create my presentation slides and shoot a video about my research results for the public.

In October, I entered a competition with my research results. I earned the top prize for Branch Experiment Station Research Poster and Presentation for the 2020 CAS Undergraduate Research Showcase. In the fall term of 2020, I stayed at the station and worked as a student technician. I attended ASA, CSSA, and SSSA international annual meetings and helped Dr. Qin translate and craft his conference poster.

Take a Chance

Take the chance if you can, even when you are questioning yourself. I was both scared and nervous when I found out about a new opportunity that could benefit me. My mother was my help, and she kept encouraging me to try. Be ambitious. There are many possibilities at OSU and in society as long you ask for it and try it out. Never be afraid of making mistakes. Whether working in the herbarium, conducting research, or serving as an ambassador, I have made multiple mistakes. Each error is a lesson for you to learn and be a better version of yourself. Also, ask for help when things go wrong. Keeping everything to yourself could only make things worse, and it is not a big deal to tell others you made a mistake.