Alcorn receives grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Scholars at Alcorn State University (ASU) will have the opportunity to learn the nuances of science writing through fieldwork, thanks to the university's award of a competitive interdisciplinary grant for $35,000.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded ASU a "Humanities Connections Planning Grant" that brings together scholars from the Departments of English, Biology, and Agriculture to design and implement an experiential curriculum that puts students in the field to learn more about the vast arrays of wild mushrooms that grace the landscape of Alcorn.

The grant period spans Sept 1, 2021, to Aug 31, 2022. By relying on fieldwork — the collection, description, and identification of fungi — students will learn to write as scientists and to a broader audience. These exercises will strengthen their knowledge in mycology and agricultural practices related to the field.

Logan Wiedenfeld, assistant professor of English; Jameka Grigsby, assistant professor of biology; and Frank Mrema, assistant professor of agriculture; aim to create courses that teach students the conventions and nuances of scientific writing and life sciences and agricultural cultivation namely — mycology and myco-cultivation.

Wiedenfeld, co-project manager of the grant and the Gulf States Mycological Society president, believes that the project will play a vital role in the Alcorn community. 

"We expect that the impact of this grant will reach far beyond the grounds of Alcorn," said Wiedenfeld. "Through their collecting and detailed technical descriptions, our students will work towards the creation of a professional fungal herbarium, which we will, in turn, translate into an online field guide of Mississippi fungi." 

The herbarium will serve scientists worldwide who are interested in the unique ecosystem of the Loess Bluffs on which Alcorn is situated. More than a couple of endangered species of fungi have already been documented on Alcorn's campus. The team of scholars expects to encounter at least as many undescribed species.

Grigsby noted that "the grant will aide ASU students in the field of mycology through writing and fieldwork while laying a foundation for future related grants for student development."

The online component will feed a growing appetite from the public for knowledge about wild fungi, particularly gourmet edibles such as chanterelles and oyster mushrooms, both of which grow in abundance on the campus. This online compendium will accomplish this feat by providing photographs and detailed descriptions of different species, which foragers, landowners, naturalists, and others can consult to learn better and identify the mushrooms they encounter.

"Through the generous help of the NEH, we are prepared and excited to train our students to lead the way," explained Wiedenfeld.

Wiedenfeld, Grigsby, and Mrema believe implementing the curriculum's grant will yield a shared university-wide project.

As student collections and field notes accumulate, the herbarium will grow year by year. The group will regularly update the online compendium to account for nomenclature changes, new and exciting finds, and community feedback.

Alcorn's website will become an invaluable resource for the growing group of people who want to learn more about native mushrooms.