Alicia Dorn | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) along with seven 1890 land-grant institution (LGI) partners are collaborating to help improve the recruitment, retention and graduation of diverse students in food, agriculture, natural resources and human (FANH) sciences. This initiative is funded by a $1.2 million grant awarded to the 1890 institutions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA).
With the grant, the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at North Carolina A&T State University has established the 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development (SSWD), in partnership with co-leads from Florida A&M University, Fort Valley State University, Lincoln University, Tuskegee University, UAPB, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Virginia State University.
Dr. Nina Lyon-Bennett, assistant dean for academics in UAPB’s School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, serves as a co-lead, collaborating on a team that serves the remaining 1890 institutions. The team works in conjunction with the 1890 Universities Foundation to ensure that the SSWD Center advances the recruitment, retention, graduation and placement of underrepresented students in FANH sciences.
“Being a member of this outstanding team of leaders is a professional opportunity I do not take for granted,” said Bennett. “The team assembled speaks volumes about the vast amount of leadership experience at our 1890 LGIs. I am pleased to be a part of a team of higher education leaders who are committed, both collectively and individually, to the vision of student success, timely degree completion and providing students with experiential learning opportunities. The 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development (SSWD) is all about providing students with the skills needed to be successful academically, socially and professionally.”
The SSWD center has four objectives:
- Provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and experiential learning opportunities to high school and college students;
- Recruit, retain, mentor and graduate first-generation, underrepresented students at 1890 land grant institutions;
- Deliver workforce development experiences for students to enhance the pipeline from secondary to postsecondary to graduate programs to careers;
- Develop strategies to integrate emerging technologies into the academic curriculum.
Each of the co-leads has a leading role in realizing these objectives. UAPB and North Carolina A&T are leading the objective to recruit, retain, mentor and graduate underrepresented students.
According to Bennett, the team is focusing on mentoring, by collaborating with the Mentor Collective to provide a formalized mentoring program for all 1890 Scholarship recipients and all new first-time, full-time students entering this fall in the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences and at each of the eight partner institutions.
“This is a big deal,” said Bennett. “A formalized mentoring program represents an innovative way to recruit, retain, mentor and graduate the next generation of underrepresented students at 1890 institutions. By leveraging resources, partnerships and programming at UAPB and the other partner institutions, we are creating a unique opportunity to match incoming students with upper-class, skilled peer mentors who will help to guide new students through the often scary and intimidating college education experience.”
The center was established in response to the national need to increase participation of students from underrepresented minority groups in FANH sciences careers and narrow the gap between the supply of graduates and the number of jobs in those careers. The 2020-2025 job projections, published by the USDA NIFA, place the annual number of job openings in the FANH sciences at 59,400, while the number of graduates in those careers is projected to be just 36,100 per year. The difference between the number of jobs and the number of qualified graduates leaves a gap to be at least partially filled by non-majors. This gap is even larger for minority groups. For the year 2017-2018, African American graduates represented only about 3.2% of the FANH sciences graduates.
The 1890 land-grant institutions aim to play a central role in changing the views of students from underrepresented groups, while also providing education and opportunities in the FANH sciences. The SSWD Center provides a platform to allow each of the nineteen 1890 land-grant institutions to develop and evaluate effective programs for attracting, recruiting, retaining, mentoring, graduating and placing minority students in the FANH sciences. The center also serves as a hub for sharing resources on best practices, educational materials, evaluation tools and data on agricultural-career development while strengthening partnerships among the 1890 institutions, the USDA, public organizations, such as the 1862 land-grant universities and the 1994 Tribal College universities and private organizations.
In addition to fostering collaboration among the 1890 universities, the SSWD Center aims to strengthen their partnership with the USDA and engage other public and private organizations in collaborations to promote minority engagement and success in the FANH sciences.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.