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SERD News —July 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
  • Data Resources for NIFA Grant Applicants
  • FFA’s Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education Visits NIFA
  • In The Spotlight: Community Colleges and NIFA
  • Division of Research in Formal and Informal Learning, NSF Visit to NIFA
  • Web Resource for Service Learning

Meeting and Conferences

  • Alaska Native-Serving and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions Project Director’s Conference
  • Challenge Grant Recipient Presents Her Work at NIFA Headquarters


From the Director

I don’t know about you, but graduation ceremonies are a special part of this time of year for me.  It’s easy to joke about the boring speeches, hot, uncomfortable gowns, and embarrassing moments. I think about the bigger picture.  Graduation represents achievement. It’s easy to begin something; finishing is another matter. Not everyone gets to cross that stage with a diploma.  Those who do, however, have real, tangible proof of accomplishment.  And most have memories of times when they wondered if they could do it.

For some people, it’s that organic chemistry class they had to take twice. For some non-English speakers, maybe chemistry was fine, but that English requirement was a real challenge.  The point is, the diploma is earned.  A goal was set—and met.

I’m excited as well as concerned about the prospects for the agriculture students who are graduating. The agricultural, food, and renewable natural resources sectors of the U.S. economy will generate an estimated 54,400 jobs each year for individuals with bachelors’ or higher degrees in food, renewable energy, and environmental specialties between 2010 and 2015, a 5 percent increase over demand seen a decade ago. However, only 55 percent of these jobs will be filled by graduates from the agricultural sector and the rest from allied sciences (this data comes from a recent report by the Purdue University and NIFA). Do we need more graduates in the agriculture sector and can they compete against graduates with stronger science, technology, engineering, and mathematics backgrounds? I’d encourage you to read the full report on our website.

Information such as this is very useful in directing us where we should focus our energy and resources. There are several databases that we have found useful and we believe these could help our grantees, particularly in the development of their program goals and planning of activities. While we at SERD will be looking at ways to improve our programs through collecting new impacts information and related materials about the programs we manage, we also encourage our grantees to take a careful look at their baseline data and develop program activities that will help improve their baseline.

                                                                       — Jermelina Tupas

Data Sources for NIFA Education Grant Applicants

It’s an old cliché that knowledge is power, but it can make a difference when you compete for funds. In 2009, NIFA’s more than 60 grant programs received about 6,300 applications.  How can applicants make sure their ideas get noticed—and funded?  A well-planned project with clear objectives is always helpful; a strong data to back up the project plan will make it even better. Here are a few websites that applicants may turn to when looking for relevant information and data that could support their planned projects.

NIFA’s Current Research Information System (CRIS):  Any NIFA grant recipient knows about the obligation to write about their funded project’s success and challenges. Every applicant should know it’s a great place to develop a new project.  Have a good idea? Search the CRIS database to see if anyone has tried it before—whether their approach worked or ran into problems.  Look by subject area to find new ideas for projects that might benefit your students.

Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in the U.S. Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources System: Congress mandated that USDA identify career potential for students who earn degrees in agriculture and natural sciences. Applicants can get information on trends and discover what agri-business is looking for in new entry-level hires.  The information will allow them to develop programs to train students in ways will benefit both future employers and job candidates.  Applicants can also use the information in the report to prove that their ideas are addressing current needs.

National Ag Statistics Service: This USDA agency provides a host of information for anyone doing a grant on agronomic education.  On-farm energy production, state crop statistics and even lesson plans for your students are available here.

Bureau of Labor Statistics: This federal site can offer you data on state employment, local employment, job prospect by field, data on green jobs, and a host of other information that can help an applicant make the case for education funding. You can even narrow your search down by type of work, e.g., food scientist, dietician, or farmer and rancher.

National Center for Educational Statistics: From research on school violence to data on students success in math, the National Center for Education Statistics can help you make the case for any kind of educational project.  The site also has data tables, search tools, and surveys broken down by education level to help you prove that your plan will help more students achieve in science, math, and agronomics.

National Center for Health Statistics and the National Institutes of Health: For applicants seeking a community health or nutrition grant these two websites are a great place to find data to build your case for funding with authority.

FFA’s Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) Visits NIFA

On May 19, representatives from the National FFA’s Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) met with NIFA staff to talk about their project to create a national curriculum for secondary agricultural education. The presentation had roughly 30 attendees. CASE was developed in response to the National Council for Agricultural Education’s goal of increasing the quality of agricultural education by giving students challenging math-and science-focused curriculum with a healthy dose of experiential learning to make the coursework come alive.  Their website offers opportunities for professional development, learning assessment, and teaching materials. Visit their website if you missed this presentation and want to learn more.

In the Spotlight: Community Colleges and NIFA

The American Association of Community Colleges did a survey of their stakeholders’ funding issues in 2007*. The association found that rural community colleges faced the greatest budgetary strain.  NIFA can be a source of grants for these schools; in fact, NIFA’s Rural Technology Program requires that recipients be located in rural areas, as defined by the last census. However, these rural, 2-year schools can also get other funds. If they have a strong representation of Hispanic students they may qualify for a grant from the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program. Tribal colleges and universities, which are also in rural areas, have four NIFA grant programs. In addition, rural community colleges can apply for Challenge Grants, Women and Minorities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) funding, and a host of other NIFA programs. Any faculty member, grant specialist, or president of rural community colleges should make a point of visiting the NIFA education website to learn which grants they could compete for to get money they need to support their programs.

* Katsinas, S. G., Tollefson, T. A., & Reamey, B. A. (2008). Funding issues in U.S. community col­leges: Findings from a 2007 survey of the National State Directors of Community Colleges [Report]. Washington, DC: American Association of Community Colleges. Available from the AACC website.

Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings, NSF Visits NIFA

How can educators integrate formal and non formal education for our next generation of food and agriculture scientists? There are a variety of ways this may be achieved and these will be presented at a seminar and panel discussion from a group of program directors within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL), Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR). 

David Ucko, acting director for DRL, will lead this forum, which will be held from 1:30–3 p.m. in room 3455-A of the Waterfront Building. Ucko’s experience involves a long history of leadership in numerous science museums throughout the United States, including tenure as president of California’s Museum of Science and Industry. He was also a Presidential appointee to the National Museum Services Board, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and has been recognized as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. Joining him are three program officers who also are involved in the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) and Informal Science Education (ISE) programs: Larry Suter, Sylvia James, and Celeste Pea.

Web Resource for Service Learning

There is a new service learning website available, complete with lesson plans and opportunities broken down by educational level. Learn and Serve America’s National Service Learning Clearinghouse provides an online library, teacher tips, starting a service learning project, and faculty tool kits. It also features a section for Native American tribes and U.S. territories. The site also offers free publications and downloads to help educators make volunteer work a chance to build experiential learning. The project was created by Education, Training, and Research Associates, a non-profit founded in 1981. 


Alaska Native-Serving and Native Hawaiian-Serving (ANNH) Institutions Project Directors’ Meeting

The Alaska Native-Serving and Native Hawaiian-Serving (ANNH) Institutions Project Directors’ Meeting was held May 24-26 at NIFA. Over 20 ANNH college faculty attended.  The conference featured 12 presentations by faculty members on a range of topics from fighting childhood obesity to using service learning as a tool to recruit and retain students. Faculty members shared a host of products produced by their schools, including fish, salsa, and healthy living cookbooks.  Later in the conference, NIFA staff members had their turn to share knowledge on a host of topics from global food security to the challenge of how to fund education programs for the future.

Challenge Grant Recipient Presents Work at NIFA Headquarters

Florence Dunkel, Montana State University, has used NIFA’s Higher Education Challenge Grant program for many years to take students to Sanambele, Mali, a rural part of Africa. Over 100 students from 5 schools have participated in this program, which allows students to work with the rural community on a host of problems from preventing malaria through mosquito control to developing a high-protein diet from cowpeas. It was Dunkel’s time with Native American students from Chief Dull Knife Tribal College, in Lame Deer,MT, that became the subject of “Dancing Across the Gap,” PBS documentary. Dunkel and the documentary producers showed the film at NIFA’s waterfront headquarters on May 25 and to the ANNH conference on May 26 and answered questions after the showing. Visit the program website to learn more.


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

Editor: Jill Lee, SERD program. Contact Jill if you have questions about SERD NEWS.

Jermelina Tupas, Director of SERD Higher Education Programs

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