Department of Agriculture awarded $1 million USDA grant

News Reporter

The Department of Agriculture has been awarded a four-year, $1 million grant from the USDA’s Hispanic Serving Institutions Education Grants Program (HIS).

The grant will be used to fund the education of 21 students studying agriculture and agriculture-related sciences through a program called Southwest Agriculture and Food Security Education: Preparing Future Leaders for a Safe and Secure U.S. Food Supply System (SAFE), said Ryan Saucier, project director and assistant agriculture professor.

“We’re trying to prepare the workforce of the future,” said Jaime Chahin, dean of the College of Applied Arts.

The grant is one of four awarded to schools throughout the United States this year, and the third grant to be awarded to the university in the past ten years, Chahin said.

The primary qualification required by the USDA for the grant states that the receiving institution must have at least a 25 percent Hispanic student enrollment, Saucier said.

Last fall, 31 percent of the undergraduate enrollment were Hispanic students and 20 percent of graduate students were Hispanic, according to the Texas State University System website.

The 21 SAFE students consist of 11 graduate students at Texas State and New Mexico State, a partner in the project, and ten undergraduates at Austin Community College and Southwest Texas Junior College, Saucier said.

“We’re currently in the process of finding the students,” Saucier said.

The undergrad students at ACC and SWTJC will transfer to Texas State after two years and complete their bachelor’s degree in Agriculture or a related science like Biology or Nutrition, Saucier said.

“Research has shown that Hispanic students have a higher graduation rate when they transfer to a larger university from a junior college,” Saucier said. “These schools are often closer to the communities they come from, so they can better adjust.”

All 21 students will receive certifications from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) related to international and domestic food and agriculture security, Saucier said.

The bulk of the projects will begin once the undergraduate students transfer to the university, he said.

“Until then, it’s a matter of correspondence with Texas State faculty while they finish their entry level work,” Saucier said.

SAFE students will also be involved in job shadowing and internships with the DHS and USDA, Chahin said.

“In my experience, internships help define what you like – what you want to be,” Chahin said.

Students will earn a total of six certifications from the DHS and FEMA, and experience in food safety, food security and agro-terrorism, Saucier said.

Texas State was one of numerous schools to apply for the grant this spring, Saucier said.

“The goals and objectives of the Texas State Ag. Department were noteworthy enough that the USDA thought we were worth funding,” Saucier said.

Students that graduate from this program will either begin working in their field or continue on to more graduate work at New Mexico State, Chahin said.

“All of this is for the students,” Chahin said. “The students are the ones that benefit from this. They are our future.”