Alumna Conducts Vital Research To Protect Essential Potato Crops

Paige Hickman
Paige Hickman

The potato plays a key role in supplying food to more than 1 billion people worldwide. And Allegheny College alumna Paige Hickman ’17 is conducting research vital to eliminating a threat to the crop’s health. 

Hickman is a third-year Ph.D. student and senior research associate at the University of Idaho in the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology, and Nematology. She conducts research on controlling Globodera pallida, a quarantined pest to the potato that can cause up to 80% of yield loss. If discovered, this pest must be completely eradicated before farmers can resume growing potatoes since it is regulated by the USDA APHIS.

It was at Allegheny College that Hickman first learned to design a research project, work in a lab, and present her findings in a compelling way. 

“Allegheny’s focus on research opportunities is what most helped me prepare for my career,” says Hickman. “I had the amazing opportunity to spend two summers working on a research project with Professor Beth Choate of the Environmental Science and Sustainability Department. The research skills and my background as an environmental science student still help me to this day.”

After completing her bachelor’s degree in environmental science with a minor in Spanish, Hickman spent a summer working as a crop scout in her hometown. Soon after, she started a master’s program in horticulture at the University of Arkansas. Her research there focused on how cover crops could reduce pest insects and disease in the watermelon. 

Now, as a Ph.D. student, Hickman works in a lab directed by Louise-Marie Dandurand, Ph.D. Hickman’s primary responsibilities include managing the lab and experiments in the greenhouse or field. She also supervises and trains new employees in the lab.

Hickman was also recently recognized by the Potato Association of America for presenting outstanding student research during its annual meeting. After finishing her Ph.D., she hopes to pursue a postdoctoral position at a plant diagnostic lab to help growers find out what types of pests or diseases are affecting their crops.

Even as her research career advances, Hickman looks back with gratitude on her Allegheny experience. 

“After being at two larger universities for my graduate programs, I really appreciate the small campus at Allegheny,” Hickman says. “It’s more of a community. Small class sizes are a much nicer environment for learning. Professors really care about the students.