The Role of Agriculture Grants in Fostering Diversity in Agrisciences
In the dynamic field of agriculture, grants play a crucial role in fostering diversity and fueling basic research. Awarded in 2018 as part of an ongoing project, known as the REEU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) initiative , serves as a remarkable example of how funding supports diversity in agrisciences. The project’s aim is to empower undergraduate Research Fellows, particularly those from minority-serving institutions, to shape the future of agrisciences through research, self-efficacy, scientific competencies, and outreach. Over the course of three years, the project has not only contributed to research and educational advancement but also yielded impressive results and impacts.
The REEU project focuses on supporting six undergraduate Research Fellows from minority-serving institutions in Georgia, Maryland, and the Southwest, alongside four University of Georgia Fellows from STEM-underrepresented groups. These students engage in mentored research projects in crop molecular breeding, genetics, and genomics while also receiving training in research ethics and science communication. They participate in a “Plant Breeding Practicum” field course and engage in a service-learning project to understand the connection between research, extension, and crop production. Furthermore, the program includes a weekly career counseling series, offering practical advice on post-graduate training and career options in various agriscience fields.
The impact of the REEU project extends beyond academic boundaries. It enhances the research self-efficacy of undergraduate Research Fellows, equipping them with scientific competencies and reinforcing their belief in positive outcomes in agriscience careers. The program emphasizes practical skills, ethical research, and effective communication, all essential for a successful career in agrisciences.
Results and Impacts
The results and impacts of the REEU project are substantial. The program addresses logistical challenges effectively, ensuring a smooth experience for Fellows, particularly during the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This flexibility and adaptability are critical in supporting students’ education and research journeys.
The project provides a platform for learning, networking, and career development. Career seminars featuring diverse speakers and networking opportunities enable Fellows to explore various career paths and gain valuable insights. Science communication workshops enhance their ability to communicate their research to both the scientific community and the public, a skill essential for knowledge dissemination and engagement.
Field-based learning, service-learning, and extension and outreach activities expose Fellows to the real-world implications of agriscience research. The practical experiences they gain in the field and at farmers’ markets help them understand the farm-to-table concept and the vital connections between research and the community. These experiences are incorporated into outreach activities, including blogs discussing their experiences.
The REEU project’s approach to mentorship and peer interaction strengthens the Fellows’ abilities and encourages them to pursue diverse agriscience careers. The project’s impact extends to the wider community, with the publication of Fellows’ extension experiences in the UGA Extension newsletter “Shades of Green.” Additionally, several Fellows have presented their research posters at various events and conferences, further disseminating their work and insights.
The REEU project serves as a beacon of how agriculture grants, particularly in the context of fostering diversity in agrisciences, significantly impact basic research and career development. The results and impacts of the program are evident in the growth and achievements of the undergraduate Research Fellows. This initiative not only contributes to the advancement of agrisciences but also enriches the community by preparing a diverse group of students for impactful careers in the field. The project demonstrates how grants can fuel basic research and cultivate the next generation of agriscientists.