September 15 to Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage month. The observance begins mid-month because it is the date that five Latin American countries -- Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua – celebrate their independence. Additionally, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.
There are 56.6 million Hispanic people in the U.S., accounting for 17.6 percent of the nation's total population. NIFA has programs available to more than 400 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) dedicated to meeting the educational needs of this community. These institutions are located in 21 states and Puerto Rico, serving more than 2 million students in areas with the largest growing Hispanic communities in the country.
The HSI Education Grants Program encourages innovative teaching and educational projects that prepare students to enter the agricultural workforce. The STEM Engagement for the Enrichment of Diverse Students (SEEDS) project at Mesa College in San Diego, Calif., is a four-year effort to encourage underrepresented students, primarily Hispanic, to pursue graduate degrees.
“I envisioned the SEEDS program as a golden opportunity to address issues regarding food security, hunger, and sustainability that disproportionally affect the Latino population.”
-Leticia Lopez, SEEDS project director
The first 20 SEEDS scholars entered the program in June of 2015 and are majoring in STEM fields such as anthropology, nutrition, biology, and geology. An additional 20 students will join the program in 2016 and 2017. Along with traditional studies, SEEDS scholars participate in several community projects, serving as agriculture science mentors to children in elementary and middle schools, building community gardens, and increasing community awareness of environmental issues that adversely affect our health at a local and global level.
Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) also leads a multi-institution program that encourages underrepresented students to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degrees and careers as leaders in agriculture. Participants in the STEP UP to USDA Career Success (Science, Technology, and Environmental Programs for Undergraduate Preparation to USDA Career Success) program receive intensive hands-on training and internships at four USDA agencies: Natural Resources Conservation Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, Agricultural Research Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. NIFA supported the STEP UP program with a $3.3 million grant in 2011.