Grant program helps Hispanic-serving institutions prepare students for ag-related jobs
The overall job market may have looked better, but things are definitely looking good in agricultural, environmental, and related fields.
According to studies conducted at Purdue University, the nation is in the midst of a job creation boom of about 54,000 openings per year for those who hold bachelors or higher degrees in food, renewable energy, and environmental specialties. Most of those positions will be in business and science areas, while the remainder will be in production, education, communication, and government services.
Although these jobs exist, they don’t just grow on trees, especially for those in underrepresented communities – but theNational Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has a program that helps level the playing field for college students about to make career decisions.
NIFA on Oct. 16 announced the recipients of its 2014 round of grants to Hispanic-serving institutions. NIFA awarded 18 grants totaling $9 million to 13 institutions in five states and Puerto Rico to help prepare their students to enter the agricultural workforce.
NIFA’s Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Education Grant Program helps HSIs attract, retain, and graduate outstanding students to enhance the nation’s food and agricultural scientific and professional work force. HSIs are colleges and universities with total enrollments that are 25 percent or more Hispanic. Projects that qualify for HSI grants include those that support curriculum development, experiential learning, equipment and instruction delivery systems, and faculty development.
Last year, 48 HSIs from eight states and Puerto Rico submitted 78 applications to fund projects. From those applications, NIFA’s competitive, peer-reviewed panel selected 19 to share in $9.2 million in funding. About 350 students who benefitted directly from last year’s HSI grants are in line to graduate at the end of the current school year.
Examples of NIFA-funded HSI projects include:
New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Northern New Mexico Climate Change Project. In this project, NMSU created a direct pipeline from Taos High School to recruit and retain students through their bachelor’s and master’s degree in forestry. The goal is to increase the availability of skilled graduates with a deep understanding of climate change challenges to Northern New Mexico, and increase minority representation in Natural Resources Management agencies.
Hostos Community College’s (HCC) food science A.S. degree program. HCC is establishing the first Food Science Associate Science degree program in a New York State Community College System. The program is a Bronx-based conduit to create partnerships that link expertise and advocacy in food, health, public policy, non-profit, and business sectors to reduce health and food access disparities.
University of Texas – San Antonio’s (UTSA) Experience in Renewable Energy and Water Quality. The grant allowed UTSA to develop new courses, technical and professional workshops, seminars, scholarships, publications, outreach activities and summer internships at USDA agencies.
NIFA has produced a publication to highlight a number of students who have participated in previous HSI-funded collaborative programs, such as the one sponsored by UTSA. Two of these students, Anabel Rodriguez and Abigail Compos, are examples:
Rodriguez, who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in plant science major from California State University – Fresno, spent two years calibrating sprayers and spraying field plots with pesticides. She aspires to obtain a doctorate in weed science or nematology work for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Campos illustrates the type of “non-agricultural” jobs that are available within the field of agriculture. Campos, who last June earned a master’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University, learned through her internship experience about project management and various programs and services that are tied into the U.S. Forest Service and sees herself 10 years from now with a PhD program and continuing to work for USDA.
Through federal funding and leadership for research, education, and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.