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NIFA Reinforces the Agricultural and Food Education Pipeline

Agricultural and Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education has been described as a "leaky pipeline," as fewer students remain to pursue careers in these fields as they progress through advanced study. Students pursuing agricultural and food science education and careers follow a similar pattern. USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) education programs are designed to enhance the agricultural and food workforce pipeline through programs that support agricultural workforce development, increase agricultural literacy, strengthen student recruitment and retention, and build educational capacity. 

Workforce Development

NIFA supports agricultural workforce development by offering fellowship and training opportunities that prepare students, teachers/faculty, and researchers for a variety of careers in the STEM agricultural pipeline.

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s Education and Workforce Development (AFRI EWD) Program provides funding to support multiple training opportunities: 

  • The Food and Agriculture Non-formal Education (FANE) program area priority supports content development and activities for non-formal education that foster the development of technology-savvy youth. 

  • The Professional Development for Agricultural Literacy (PDAL) program area priority provides K-14 education professionals (teachers, counselors, administrators, etc.) and post-baccalaureate pre-service teachers increased knowledge of food and agricultural sciences to train the agricultural workforce for the future. 

  • The Agricultural Workforce Training at Community Colleges (AWT) program area priority provides opportunities for the development of workforce training programs that result in students obtaining a 2-year associates degree, technical certificate, or other industry-accepted credential at Community, Junior, or Technical Colleges or Institutes.

  • The Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates (REEU) program area priority provides practical experience for undergraduates in agricultural research, education, or extension.

  • The Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowships program area priorities provide stipends and research funds to Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral researchers to complete agricultural research, education, or extension projects. Doctoral candidates and postdoctoral researchers apply directly for these grants via their institution or by their own.

  • The Special Topics program area priority addresses critical challenges and opportunities in education and/or extension. Investments made through this priority area are intended to catalyze innovations or address priority issues involving education and workforce development. In FY2022, special topics are offered in the following areas: 

    • National Extension Clearinghouse for Industry and the Workforce (NECIW) to develop and deliver a national framework and clearinghouse for non-formal education workforce training opportunities for jobs within and supportive of the food and agricultural sector.
    • Youth Innovators Empowering Agriculture Across America (YEA) provides opportunities to reimagine and enhance the system of Positive Youth Development outreach.

The Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program (MSP) provides funding to institutions for awarding scholarships to undergraduate or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) students from groups of traditionally underrepresented individuals in the food and agricultural sciences.

The National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship (NNF) Program provides funding for institutions to award scholarships to individuals pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees in targeted expertise shortage areas within food, agriculture, natural resource, or human sciences.

Learning and Engagement

NIFA aims to increase the recruitment and retention of students in the pipeline through programs that promote learning and engagement. Many of these programs fund projects that develop curriculum and instructional materials and support teacher training that will ultimately strengthen students’ critical thinking, communication, and leadership skills. NIFA also offers professional development opportunities to secondary school teachers so they may incorporate agricultural STEM education into their classrooms.

The Secondary Education, Two-Year Postsecondary Education, and Agriculture in the K-12 Classroom Challenge Grants Program (SPECA) funds agricultural projects that enable innovative curriculum development and student development at K-12 levels and community colleges.

The Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fields Program (WAMS) funds projects that focus on women and other underrepresented minorities from rural areas in STEM agricultural fields.

The Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants Program funds projects that develop non-traditional agricultural education methodologies. Many of these projects leverage resources and enhance educational quality by bridging the gap among the university science, education, and private sector communities.

Capacity Building

NIFA broadens representation within the agricultural pipeline through its capacity building programs. These programs facilitate access to higher education and support research, teaching, and extension activities at minority-serving institutions and institutions outside of the land-grant university system.

The Capacity Building Grants for Non-Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture Program (NLGCA) program provides funding to eligible non-land grant colleges of agriculture to develop curricula, conduct research, participate in outreach activities, and build capacity including faculty growth activities, acquiring equipment, and developing graduate assistantships.

The Hispanic-Serving Institution Education Grants Program (HSI) supports innovative teaching or education proposals that increase enrollment and graduation rates in the agricultural sciences.

The 1890s Grants Programs portfolio builds institutional capacities of Historically Black institutions by funding research, education, extension, and facilities projects at the 1890 land-grant institutions.

The 1994 Education, Extension, and Research Programs portfolio promotes sovereignty and self-sufficiency by providing resources for higher education institutions, tribal communities, and native students of resource-poor Indian reservations.

The Alaska Native-Serving and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions Education Competitive Grants Program (ANNH) support projects that enhance educational equity and strengthens institutional educational capacities.

The Insular Areas Programs portfolio focuses on improving formal, postsecondary agricultural sciences education and developing capacity in the following eight insular areas: the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, and the Virgin Islands of the United States. 

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