(New Mexico News Connection) Students from underrepresented groups are being recruited by New Mexico State University and California State University-Chico for a new program aimed at helping them join the nation's food and agricultural sciences workforce.
The joint program will train more students from minority groups for competitive agriculture careers.
Jennifer Hernandez Gifford, associate professor of animal science at New Mexico State University and the program's director, said 40% to 50% of undergraduates at both universities studying animal sciences are of Hispanic descent, but it drops to 13% at the graduate level.
"That's not in line with us being able to get those students into those leadership roles that require a secondary degree," Hernandez Gifford pointed out. "So, we're really targeting that. We're trying to help bolster that group."
The program is funded by an almost $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. In 2022, the agency announced a total allocation of $14 million to Hispanic-serving institutions to support student learning in the agriculture and human science sectors.
Hernandez Gifford noted many Hispanic and Indigenous undergraduates are first-generation students who face severe financial hardships if they also support themselves or their families, which makes the grant money critical for many.
"That means that they're not working at Walmart 'til midnight, then trying to go to school in the morning," Hernandez Gifford observed. "We're not just saying, 'Here's a scholarship, go to class.' We're saying, 'I'm going to give you a stipend.' So, this program's really very much about setting up a community."
She added the collaboration between universities will give more students a chance to aim their sights on an ag career, because Chico State has a strong undergrad program in animal science but lacks a graduate program, where New Mexico State has both.
The program, which runs through 2026, currently has three graduate students at New Mexico State.