October 4, 2023

Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio will again expand its agricultural research and related fields. The HBCU recently received part of a $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant in partnership with other colleges across the country.

The primary goal of the project is to enable HBCU institutions, tribal colleges and universities and Hispanic institutions to build up the next generation of the food, agriculture and natural resources workforce.

With its share of the grant, Central State will design a graduate program to attract students to the fields of soil science and entomology.

The university is partnering with Lincoln University — an HBCU in Pennsylvania — Texas A&M University and Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Hongmei Li-Byarlay, principal researcher for the project , said the program will particularly serve to train more Black and brown students, who’ve historically been marginalized from the agriculture industry.

“We want to be an instrumental institution to provide professionals going to agriculture,” Li-Bayarlay said. “And if we have a better representation of different students and population in the workforce, then we provide a better service for our whole country.”

The program will serve to complement the university’s existing curriculum in sustainable agriculture, water resources management and environmental engineering. It will also support workshops on regenerative agriculture and 4-H summer camps for K-12 students.

Debbie Alberico, interim public relations director, said the influx of funding is setting up the college to become a research institution powerhouse.

“It allows us to offer more opportunities for our students, you know, and more diversified opportunities as well. We have students coming from around the world, so we need to be able to be diversified,” Alberico explained.

Through its 2021-2022 fiscal year the university received $50 million in grants and other external funding, an increase of over 137% from the previous year. Through May of the 2022-23 fiscal year, the university got another $34.4 million in external funding.

Some of the research the university has received funding for include projects focusing on studying self-driving cars and examining racial disparities in Ohio’s behavioral health system. There’s also research programs on the use of hemp as an aquaculture feed and sustainable agriculture.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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