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CSREES Grants Collaborate to Enhance Food Safety

UC Riverside Research Project Partners with a Community College to Attract Minority Students to Careers in Food Safety 

Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188
September 19, 2008

USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) is pairing a research grant and an education grant in a unique partnership to educate and increase interest among minority students at community colleges about food safety issues.

Minority students are currently underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce; African-Americans make up 6.9 percent of this workforce, while Hispanics, the largest minority group in the United States, account for only 3.2 percent. These percentages are well below their representation in U.S. college-educated populations. The University of California, Riverside (UC Riverside) and Riverside Community College (RCC), both Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI), are working together to motivate minority students to pursue careers in science and engineering by giving them cutting-edge research and educational opportunities.

In 2006, RCC received $294,000 from the HSI Education Grants Program for a 3-year project to collaborate with UC Riverside. The collaboration will provide RCC students an experiential learning opportunity in cutting-edge water quality research and exposure to a 4-year college experience at UC Riverside. The partnership aims to motivate students to graduate from RCC and transfer to a 4-year university to pursue careers in science and engineering.

UC Riverside, in collaboration with the University of Vermont, was awarded a National Research Initiative (NRI) Water and Watershed grant for $399,405 in 2007 to examine the movement of pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella, in soil and water. The research will lead to efficient and cost-effective water treatment options by helping predict how pathogens move and survive in soil and water. Specifically, the researchers are studying chemical attraction of pathogens to soil particles and the contribution of cell movement on the retention of pathogens in soil pores. The RCC students are actively involved in UC Riverside's NRI project on bacterial pathogen fate.

Two students at RCC are selected each year for three years. Each student completes an 8-week summer internship working on water and food safety issues at UC Riverside and continues as a student intern throughout the school year. Students also serve as judges in the regional Riverside Unified School District's science fair to encourage younger students to consider careers in food safety and water issues.

During the first year, two minority students graduated from RCC and enrolled in 4-year engineering programs. The students presented their own research ("Establishing the phenotypic nature of Salmonella spp. and E. coli isolates as a function of environmental stress") at the Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research.

The program's success has garnered interest among students at RCC. Hundreds of students and faculty have shown interest by participating in the program's seminar series at RCC, and an enhanced interest in science and engineering fields has been observed through programmatic assessment.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education, and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit www.csrees.usda.gov.

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