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For the first year of the grant, New Mexico State University will provide scholarships to approximately 15 undergraduate students and offer 10 graduate assistantships.

August 9, 2023

3 Min Read
Hispanic students studying
Barry Austin Photography / iStock / Getty Images Plus

An alliance of four Hispanic-serving institutions – including New Mexico State University – has been awarded a $20 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to create a five-year program that will help train Hispanic students to become the next generation of agricultural leaders.

The “Leading Hispanics to Federal Agency Employment” grant is part of a $262.5 million investment in higher education institutions funded by President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. It is one of 33 projects that comprise the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program.”

As part of the grant, NMSU will work with Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Texas State University and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez to create pathways for students to enter the federal food, agricultural, natural resources and human sciences workforce after completing college. Texas A&M University-Kingsville serves as the grant’s lead institution.

“It comes down to helping Hispanic students learn the skills they’ll need to enter the workforce in ag-related careers,” said Clint Löest, a grant co-director and professor of animal science in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at NMSU.

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The team of collaborators also includes Natasha Mast of Texas A&M University-Kingsville, who serves as the grant’s director, Esbal Jimenez of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, Merritt Drewery of Texas State University and Shannon Norris-Parish of NMSU.

Löest said the integrated pathways program includes student scholarship, experiential learning, and outreach and engagement components.

The program will reach students beginning in high school and offer continuous support as they progress through college and eventually into federal employment. Each university will establish robust mentoring networks and provide professional and personal development opportunities, including developing students’ bilingual skills. The universities will also host symposiums and career fairs with USDA agencies to engage with students and communities.

“By providing unique experiential learning possibilities such as internships, educational tours, leadership conferences and professional development seminars, this program is designed to increase opportunities for Hispanic students to pursue studies in agricultural sciences or related fields in hopes of establishing a federal employment pipeline,” said Norris-Parish, an assistant professor of agricultural and extension education at NMSU.

Related:NMSU program to train high school teachers on ag, sustainability

Löest said the grant’s primary objectives include improving graduation and retention rates and increasing the career placement of Hispanic students at USDA. To meet the desired outcomes, NMSU and the other universities will work to boost students’ scientific, technical and soft skills through experiential learning and research, he said.

“One of the major goals is to provide financial support to these students,” he added. “NMSU, for example, will provide undergraduates with scholarships every semester, and graduate students will receive graduate assistantships.”

At NMSU, more than three dozen faculty members in the College of ACES have agreed to serve as mentors for students in the program, Löest said. For the first year of the grant, NMSU will provide scholarships to approximately 15 undergraduate students and offer 10 graduate assistantships.

“Our goal is to make sure the program is ready to begin by this fall,” he said. “The recruiting process for undergraduate and graduate students will begin in August.”

By the time the grant concludes in 2028, Löest and his collaborators hope the program becomes an educational model for other higher education institutions to adopt or adapt. For more information about the grant, contact Löest at [email protected].

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Source: NMSU

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