N.C. A&T Receives USDA Grant for New Center of Excellence

By Lydian Bernhardt / 05/17/2021 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (May 17, 2021) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded a $1.1 million grant to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to help improve the recruitment, retention and graduation of diverse students in the food, agriculture, natural resources and human (FANH) sciences and related science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

With the grant, the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences will create the 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development, in partnership with Florida A&M University, Fort Valley State University, Lincoln University, Tuskegee University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Virginia State University.

The center provides a platform to allow all 19 of the nation’s 1890 land-grant institutions to develop, and test, effective programs for attracting, retaining, graduating and placing minority students in FANH sciences. The center will also serve as a hub for sharing resources on best practices; educational materials; evaluation tools; and data on agricultural career development while strengthening partnerships among the 1890s institutions, the USDA, and other public and private organizations.

“It is our goal to support the collective efforts of 1890 land-grant universities in improving the educational outcomes of underrepresented minority students,” said CAES Dean Mohamed Ahmedna, PhD. “The center provides a platform for us and our partners at the other institutions to prepare our students to enter the work force in these competitive fields.”

“All of us, and our rural communities especially, will benefit from a more diverse and prepared agricultural work force, which this center will help create,” said Beryl McEwen, Ph.D., provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We thank the members of the N.C. congressional delegation for supporting the legislation that provided funding for the 1890 Centers of Excellence, especially Representatives Alma Adams and Mark Walker and Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis.”

The center has four objectives: to provide STEM and experiential learning opportunities to high school students; to recruit, retain, mentor and graduate first-generation, underrepresented students at 1890 institutions; to deliver workforce development experiences for students to enhance pipeline from secondary to postsecondary to graduate programs to careers; and to develop strategies to integrate emerging technologies into the academic curriculum.

“The center integrates a focus on emerging technologies,” said Misty Blue-Terry, Ph.D., the 4-H STEM specialist for Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T. “The objectives cover the continuum from community outreach and STEM engagement at the high school level to supplying the workforce with career-ready professionals in FANH sciences at the college level.”

As the university’s outreach arm, Cooperative Extension will have a role in all of the objectives, said Blue-Terry.

“The 4-H program is essential to experiential learning and STEM training in middle and high school. This preparation makes students better prepared for college and FANH and STEM majors. Extension also provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to gain work experience and “soft-skill” development in the field as interns and volunteers in the county programs,” she said.

On the virtual platform, faculty, researchers and participants in the consortium will be able to collaborate and carry out recruitment and retention activities, develop and implement award-funded projects, conduct evaluations, showcase research projects and student presentations and publications.

The 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development continues, and expands, the work begun with the Center of Excellence to Motivate and Educate for Achievement (MEA Center of Excellence.) Established in 2020 at N.C. A&T through a $1.6 million grant from USDA NIFA, the center’s mission is to encourage and support young people from underrepresented minority groups to pursue studies and careers in food, agriculture and natural resources.

Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu

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