The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) is part of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative to recruit and retain underrepresented minority students in food and agriculture careers, Dr. Nina Lyon-Bennett, assistant dean for academics for the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, said.
USDA’s project is titled “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals (NEXTGEN).” Funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the project will involve the collaboration of 1890 land-grant institutions, USDA agencies, national organizations and private companies.
As part of NEXTGEN, Dr. Bennett is leading an initiative to provide scholarships for students pursuing degrees related to agriculture and family and consumer sciences at UAPB and Fort Valley State University in Georgia.
“The funding from this grant will enable students at these two universities to pursue an undergraduate education in food, agricultural, human sciences and related programs without the stress of tuition coverage,” she said. “The ability to afford tuition is a major factor impacting student enrollment, retention and persistence to graduation. It is expected that students will be able to immerse themselves in a baccalaureate curriculum, not only infused with high-impact learning practices such as undergraduate research, study abroad and hands-on experiential learning opportunities, but they will also experience mentoring and a sense of belonging.”
Thanks to the project, students will also be exposed to a vast network of governmental, agri-business and hospitality and tourism entities with internship and permanent hire opportunities, she said.
“We at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences recognize the importance of this collaborative and innovative multi-institutional project,” Dr. Bruce McGowan, interim dean/director for the School, said. “This initiative will increase participation of students from underrepresented minority groups in careers in food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences and ultimately narrow the gap between the supply of graduates and the number of jobs in those careers. This is also a great opportunity for 1890 institutions to grow enrollment as we prepare students for the workforce.”
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) is leading the $18.1 million NEXTGEN project. The NIFA grant (USDA-NIFA-ARPAED-009362) is awarded to the 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development for its proposal titled “System Approach to Promote Learning and Innovation for the Next Generations (SAPLINGS) of Professionals and Leaders in Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences.”
“The current shortage of students in the food, agriculture, natural resources and health sciences, and the limited diversity in the skilled food and agriculture work force, is a threat to U.S. agriculture,” Dr. Mohamed Ahmedna, dean of the N.C. A&T College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, said in a press release. “Our program will help mitigate that threat by bringing industry and education partners together to build programs that will engage students and help them be successful in these fields.”
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.