Experiencing the Unexpected

One Graduate Finds Great Opportunities When Going Outside Comfort Zone

Coming to BYU was both comfortable and familiar for grad Beth Black Peacock. She was born and raised less than 10 miles from campus in Springville, UT. Plus, her mom graduated from BYU and often brought Peacock to visit campus.

Though campus was familiar to Peacock, the rigor and competition of classes took her by surprise. She started as an Ancient Near Eastern Studies major, but, after taking a couple classes she realized that this wasn’t the major for her. Serving an LDS mission to Wisconsin turned out to be an unexpected and well-timed opportunity.

“Before I left on my mission, I was leaning towards landscaping designs. I wasn't sure though,” Peacock said of her search to select a major.

Surrounded by the beautiful greenery of Wisconsin, Peacock quickly came to realize focusing on research in landscape for her schooling was the way to go. Her time in Wisconsin increased Peacock's desire to study landscapes and plants in general. When she returned to BYU she felt more confident about her decision and began to focus on studying landscape management in the College of Life Sciences.

Shrubs and Fungi: Getting Published as an Undergrad

During school, Peacock had the opportunity to work with the USDA Provo Shrub Science Lab. Located south of BYU campus, at this lab the USDA collaborates with private and public university researchers and managers on shrub biology. She was able to culture and become familiar with different kinds of fungi that cause disease in plants and inhibit other types of fungi, making them a potential means of controlling weeds.

“There was always something new and exciting to investigate,” said Peacock. “It was fun having a variety of things to do and learning a whole new set of skills.”

While she was working with the USDA, Peacock was assigned to work with visiting post-doctorate Dr. Marco Masi on a study identifying pyrenophoric acid, a new phytotoxic acid, that he was working on.

“The opportunity was both unexpected and exciting,” said Peacock. “It was really a blessing to do it.”

Although Peacock had no prior knowledge on this topic, Masi took the time to teach her how to extract and purify fungal compounds and how to conduct bioassays, to determine the strength of the compounds.

Their work together unexpectedly led them further in the research than Masi had anticipated. He even petitioned to add Peacock as an author on his paper. In March 2014, Masi’s article was published in theJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, with Peacock’s name included.

Also during her time at BYU Peacock worked with BYU professor Bryan Hopkins to research a way to give the LaVell Edwards Stadium the healthiest and softest turf. Peacock was able to use this research for her honors thesis, which requires students participate in original research or creative work in the discipline of their major.

Looking Forward to Graduate School, By Way of Cuba

After graduation, Peacock is planning to apply to several graduate programs in California, while her husband studies at UCLA.

“I’m thinking of applying to plant pathology, bioinformatics or statistics,” she says.

Any of those programs will help Peacock focus on the one area that interests her the most: pesticides. Specifically, Peacock has been learning how pesticides can pose big problems when used improperly. If she had no limitations, Peacock would love to study pesticide use in Third World countries and improve their circumstances.

A recent trip to Cuba added more meaning to this dream of hers. She took advantage of her time in the country for her husband’s study abroad and was able to visit gardens and learn how Cuba focuses on sustainable agriculture. She even got to do additional research and reading on the biopesticides used and developed in the country.

While ever step of her BYU experience has been somewhat unexpected, Peacock is grateful for the unique opportunities. Of course, she expects more unexpected paths for the future. And she’s excited. 

Peacock will speak on Thursday as the student representative during BYU's Commencement Exercises.