USDA Grants Bolster Educational and Workforce Development Projects at HSIs

By  - 
agricultural professional records data on clipboard

More than 20 Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) received $14 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enhance the learning experience and increase the number of Latinx and Hispanic students entering the agriculture and human science fields. 

The investment was announced in October at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities annual conference and as part of the agency’s celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. 

“[HSIs] are our trusted partners in preparing the next generation of agriculture leaders that more fully represent the many diverse populations and voices in America,” says USDA Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh. “Our nation’s HSIs educate more than 3.2 million students every year, and this funding will strengthen their ability to build the workforce of the future.”

The grants are awarded through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s HSI Education Grants Program, which supports academic and career development for Latinx and Hispanic college students.

New Mexico State University (NMSU) was the recipient of the largest award, a nearly $1 million investment to establish a pathway program between NMSU and California State University, Chico (Chico State). The project aims to enhance the competitiveness of underrepresented — primarily Latinx and Hispanic — students in the agriculture and science workforces through mentorship, research training, and educational opportunities. Utilizing resources from Chico State’s animal science program, 15 undergraduate and 10 graduate students will be trained through 2026.

Participants are expected to improve in technical and professional competency, written and oral communication skills, and leadership abilities, says Jennifer Hernandez Gifford, PhD, associate professor of animal science at NMSU and principal investigator of the grant. The programs are designed to provide a hands-on learning environment and will also be a source of career opportunities and networking, she says.

“This targeted recruitment will also have the added benefit of evaluating individual student qualifications and coaching for application to the program. Recruited students will be paired with a faculty mentor and begin participation in research activities,” she says. “Undergraduate and graduate students will [also] benefit from summer internship programs.”

Some grants will also focus on sustainability. For example, as part of Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) project, Training the Next Generation of Hispanic Leaders for Managing Resilient Forests, students will receive a stipend and participate in internships, professional shadowing, and training related to culturally responsive forestry management during the ongoing climate crisis.

Awardee institutions also include three universities in Puerto Rico: Universidad Ana G. Méndez and the University of Puerto Rico campuses in Carolina and Mayagüez.

This article was published in our December 2022 issue.