Field Work: Valley Alum Pursues Ph.D. at Cornell University

Elizabeth “Libby” Cieniewicz

Elizabeth “Libby” Cieniewicz ’14 graduated from Lebanon Valley College three years before the College’s newest major—environmental science—was offered by The Valley, but she didn’t let that stop her from following her passion. An undergraduate biology student, Cieniewicz is now pursuing a Ph.D. in plant pathology at Cornell University.

Cieniewicz initially chose to attend Lebanon Valley College because of the class sizes and exceptional science curriculum, but she ended up finding a place where she could be involved on campus. She was involved in the academic, residential, and social lives of the College, serving as a Valley Ambassador, Resident Assistant, biology lab assistant, and Peer Tutor.

“Relationships with faculty and other students were really the highlight of my experience,” Cieniewicz said. “I was encouraged to forge my own path and it felt like everyone genuinely cared about my progress.”

This connection to faculty also served to distinguish Cieniewicz from her peers at Cornell.

“In my time at LVC, I grew as a communicator and a leader by working as a lab assistant and Peer Tutor, and in the Admission Office, and by being an RA,” Cieniewicz said. “I learned the value in long days and late nights in the lab just to finish an experiment, which is now a normal schedule in graduate school. Thanks to Dr. [Rebecca] Urban [associate professor of biology and creator of the new Environmental Science Program], I was exposed to the world of plant science and ecology, and the challenges and rewards of field work.”

Cieniewicz was involved in field research while at LVC, which taught her about field plot mapping, plant and insect identification, and dichotomous keys. These skills transferred to her graduate school experience seamlessly.

The intimate class sizes at LVC also set Cieniewicz apart at Cornell.

“When I started graduate school in the agricultural sciences, I had a sense of “imposter syndrome” because I looked around at my peers who had all come from huge, top-tier, land-grant universities and I honestly wondered how far behind I was,” Cieniewicz said. “However, I quickly realized that I was very well prepared and had a unique skillset that I acquired from LVC. For example, no one else was able to take a course on electron microscopy with four students in it.”

Cieniewicz is currently working on her thesis on the ecology and epidemiology of an emerging grapevine virus. She plans to pursue a career in research to help farmers protect their crops.


By Megan Marron, Marketing & Communications Intern

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