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SERD News — April 2010

A notice from NIFA’s Science and Education Resources Development (SERD)

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) advances education by supporting a growing pool of talented, well-trained agricultural technicians, researchers, scientists, and faculty, representing the diversity of the United States. Education is critical for NIFA to meet the goals of its five priory areas: global food security and hunger, climate change, sustainable energy, childhood obesity, and food safety. Education strengthens schools and universities to train the next generation of scientists, educators, producers, and citizens.

SERD News provides information about NIFA’s efforts to promote excellence in academic, research, and extension programs in the food and agricultural sciences.

Program News

  • From the Director
  • Two New Program Specialists at SERD
  • The 1890 Research, Teaching, and Extension Capacity Building—2010 Panel
  • In The Spotlight: HSI Grants Make a Difference

Meeting and Conferences

  • The Caribbean and Pacific Consortium (CariPac) Meeting
  • North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture
  • First American Land-Grant College Organization and Network


From the Director—Women and Minorities in Science: A Living Tradition
You probably don’t know the name Merit Ptah unless you study antiquity.  She was the first recorded women physician and she lived around 2700 BC.  This just proves that women’s contribution to science is nothing new.

Most of us with a research background know that anyone who makes a scientific discovery never works in a vacuum. Many scientists work, publish, and contribute in small ways to our understanding of the world. Then, someone comes along and pulls small threads of discovery into something that truly changes our lives for the better.  Many of those important contributions have been made by women and minorities—some are well known, others not as much, but it doesn’t make their contributions any less significant.

We all know Marie Curie, who was a double Nobel Prize winner in 1903 in physics for her work on radiation. You may not know, however, that Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician foresaw the workings of our modern-day computer in the early 19th century. She is also credited by some with writing the first computer program.  She did this work during a time when some families frowned on women even reading books, let alone attending school.

Have you heard of the Harvard computers in 18th century? No, these were not high tech machines, these were women astronomers who were given the tiresome task of cataloguing stars and computing their distances based on fuzzy images. Although they were recognized as doing this job better than the men, they were paid less than half of what the men were getting for doing the same thing; however, they used this opportunity to engage in scientific endeavor at the time when education, much less science, was limited to men.

Most of us are aware of the amazing contributions of African-American scientist George Washington Carver—a very important researcher to us in the agronomic fields. His research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, and basic crop rotation are vital to agriculture even today. He was also a pioneer in extension and an advocate for sustainable agriculture in the rural areas where he lived. He sounds like a man we need to hire at NIFA today!

And that brings us back to SERD. Who are the pioneers in agricultural research today? Maybe at a 1994 land-grant tribal college there is a young girl learning the healing value of native plants. What cures might she give us someday? Maybe there is a young man who just found out he’s getting National Needs Fellowship Grant and thinking about alternative energy and biofuel technology. Our mission at SERD is critical—we never forget that we are building the foundation of young, talented researchers ready to take us to the next level of knowledge.   We also plan to offer a new grant program to support women and minorities in math and sciences—stay tuned!

Jermelina Tupas, Director of SERD Higher Education Programs

Two New Program Specialists at SERD

SERD is fortunate to have two new program specialists on board; if you haven’t met them, consider this an introduction:

Erin Berg will work on various higher education programs. Her background includes several years of academic program coordination and student advising at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI, and Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. She has also served as program staff for other educational organizations, including American-Middle East Educational and Training Services (in the Fulbright Foreign Scholars Program department) and the National Council on US-Arab Relations. Berg’s educational background includes a B.A. in history, B.S. in psychology, and a M.Ed. in adult and higher education, all from Grand Valley State University; she is pursuing a graduate certificate in international relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.  She is located in Room 3255 at the Waterfront Centre and can be reached at 202-720-2471.

Josue Lopez will serve as a program specialist for Hispanic-serving institutions.  Lopez, a native of Puerto Rico, received a Ph.D. in agricultural and extension education from Penn State University, an M.S. in agricultural education from The Ohio State University, and a B.S. degree in general agriculture from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.  Lopez’s doctoral research described traditional knowledge of small-scale farmers in the Andean Mountains of Venezuela and highlighted implications for agricultural educators.  His master’s thesis focused on volunteering among Hispanic Americans in Cleveland, OH.

Lopez has extensive experience in the international arena, especially in participatory approaches in international extension systems and curriculum development in the agricultural science.  Previous to joining NIFA, he served as an urban agriculture educator for the University of Maryland Extension System.  He also taught science to Latinos students in the Boston Public Schools.

The 1890 Research, Teaching, and Extension Capacity Building – 2010 Panel

During the week of April 12 panelists will review 340 applications for the 1890 Capacity Building Program. This grant’s mission is to strengthen teaching, research, and extension programs in the food and agricultural sciences of the 1890 land-grant institutions and Tuskegee University. Roughly 100–120 proposals will be funded this year.

This is the first year that applicants can receive funding for extension programs, and the qualifying 18 schools submitted 63 extension applications.  The new extension opportunity comes from the FY 2008 Farm Bill.  There will also be 114 teaching and 163 research applications. Applicants may submit integrated applications where a school’s research, education, and extension departments can work together on a project.

In the Spotlight: HSI Grants Make a Difference

Jorge Lozano has always loved plants. It’s something he learned from his mother while growing up in Hebbronville, TX. Little did he know, however, that at 23 he would be a master’s candidate in horticulture and considering at Ph.D. Lozano credits the guidance of his advisor Shad Nelson at Texas A&M, Kingsville. Nelson chose Lozano for graduate assistantship, funded by NIFA’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants Program, which Lozano says was instrumental in his decision to go further with his education. 

As a manager for the three campus greenhouses, Lozano is responsible for everything from plant health, to temperature control, to preventing calcium deposits from hard water. Lozano will focus on diseases of palm trees for his master’s and considering staying at Texas A&M for his doctorate in horticulture.


North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture

SERD national program leaders Irma Lawrence, Ali Mohamed, Audrey Trotman, and Gregory Smith are organizing the 3rd annual SERD Project Directors Workshop.  This year’s event, scheduled in conjunction with the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) annual conference, will be held June 22-25 at Penn State University.   NACTA is a professional organization of academic educators and administrators with a strong focus on improving teaching practices within the food and agricultural sciences disciplines. 

The SERD Project Director’s Workshop component of this conference targets SERD grant program project directors (PD) whose funded projects are scheduled to terminate within the next 2 years.  SERD PDs are asked to attend this conference once during the life of their grant to showcase their SERD-funded project, share educational resources among regional and national peers in professional development sessions, and encourage partnerships among agricultural educators with similar disciplines or project interests to increase classroom efficiency and effectiveness.  In addition, the conference permits USDA program officers to discuss administrative responsibilities and procedures associated with the PD’s funded project, such as clearer understanding of grant expectations and fiscal management and developing improved impact statements.

2010 First American Land-grant Consortium 2010 Conference

The First Americans Land-grant Consortium’s (FALCON) 6th Annual Conference, October 23-26, will be held at the Minneapolis Airport Marriott in Bloomington, MN.

The conference will focus on research, teaching, and community programs being conducted by students, faculty, and staff at 1994 land-grant institutions.  There will be a strong student focus, and tribal college students are especially invited to participate and present their work.

Solicitations for proposals for faculty and student presentations and poster exhibits will begin this summer.  Contact John Phillips at (573) 234-2064 for more information.

Caribbean and Pacific Consortium (CariPac) 2010 Conference
Jermelina Tupas and Greg Smith met with the Caribbean and Pacific Consortium (CariPac) on February 19 during the group’s annual conference in Washington, DC, to discuss a new distance education program for insular areas. This new program will help these schools supplement their Insular Area Grants with remote access education. CariPac, established 2005, includes institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, and the Virgin Islands of the United States. CariPac brings needed funds into agriculture and food science programs.

Ag in The Classroom National Conference

The Ag in the Classroom national conference is June 23–25 in Baltimore.  More information will be available in the next SERD newsletter.


For a plain text copy of this newsletter, please contact Jill Lee. SERD NEWS is published quarterly.   The next issue is planned for June 19, 2010

Editor: Jill Lee, SERD program. If you have questions about SERD NEWS, please contact her at jlee@nifa.usda.gov.

Jermelina Tupas, Director of SERD Higher Education Programs

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