Four smiling students wearing white lab coats stand side by side in a laboratory

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) has awarded Northeastern Illinois University a $275,000 grant to support its agriculture science engagement at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI). Northeastern is one of 26 institutions in the United States—and the only institution in Illinois—to receive this grant. It is Northeastern’s fourth USDA-NIFA grant and its fifth USDA grant overall.

The USDA-NIFA program awarded a total of $10.7 million in grants nationwide. The goal of the program is to promote and strengthen the ability of HSIs to conduct programs in the food and agricultural sciences that will lead graduates to enhance the country’s food and agricultural scientific and professional workforce.

“To create a reliable, sustainable food supply for the U.S. and the world, we need ideas and innovations from every part of our diverse society,” Acting Director of USDA-NIFA Parag Chitnis said in a press release. “Ensuring our Hispanic-Serving Institutions are prepared and able to reach this vital audience is a high priority for NIFA and for agriculture.”

This grant will fund a new four-year research initiative, “A Bridge to USDA Research for H.S.I. STEM Undergraduates,” through summer 2024. The proposal was led by Laura Sanders, newly retired professor of Earth Science and Environmental Science. Sanders was a key faculty member of Northeastern’s Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE), helping to initiate its founding through grant proposals and serving as a member of SCSE’s Executive Board. Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Pamela Geddes will be the lead investigator with co-principal investigators Associate Professor of Earth Science Ken Voglesonger and Associate Professor and Department Chair of Chemistry Ken Nicholson.

“The Bridge project is a fantastic program that will produce a highly skilled cohort of NEIU students prepared to advance to the next level of academic and professional training for career paths in agricultural and environmental science,” Geddes said. “Through the grant, participants will receive training and mentoring for conducting scientific research at USDA national laboratories, where they will participate in a 10-week intensive research internship.”

Geddes anticipates the Bridge program will prepare 20 undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students over the four-year grant period and help prepare them for graduate programs or careers in or related to one of NIFA’s priority areas: water for agriculture.

“This excellent opportunity will directly benefit students by continuing a long trajectory of success from previous USDA-funded programs,” Geddes said. “We strongly believe that our students will show an increased level of scientific self-efficacy and will show increased confidence in essential professional skills after these internships.”

Geddes anticipates an application for the program will be ready by the end of the Fall 2020 semester and hopes to recruit students from Earth Science, Chemistry, Biology and Environmental Science majors.