Jun. 21, 2023

AUSTIN, Texas — St. Edward’s University was awarded a five-year, $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program (NextGen) grant is the largest in the university’s history — benefiting undergraduate students who plan on pursuing a career in the food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences (FANH) workforce.

“This historic investment in St. Edward’s University will strengthen our ability to educate and cultivate the next generation of agriculture leaders that better represent individuals from all walks of life, background and experiences,” said Montserrat Fuentes, president of St. Edward’s University. “This monumental funding will help us build interdisciplinary education, training and research opportunities for our students to address the most pressing agricultural challenges and develop solutions for a sustainable and just future.”

The NextGen grant provides funding for the School of Natural Sciences’ “From Education and Experiential Learning to Employment: Cultivating the NextGen of Natural Resources and Food Science Leaders (E3)” program led by Project Director Trish Baynham, professor of Biological Sciences, and Co-Project Director Matthew Steffenson, associate professor of Biological Sciences. 

The goal of the E3 program is to increase the number, retention and graduation of diverse students interested in FANH careers and majoring in biology or environmental biology and climate change. This will be achieved through educational assistance awards (EAAs), infusing FANH into four core courses and developing two FANH leadership courses. Students will also complete eight-week long paid summer internships in FANH disciplines across the country, including at the USDA, beginning in the Summer of 2024 — students will present their internship work at local, regional and national meetings. In addition to offering rewarding internships, E3 will establish a Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) club connected to the national organization to provide networking and professional development opportunities for students. These experiences will prepare graduates to take leadership roles at the USDA and other federal sector agencies.

“Experiential learning is one of the hallmarks of a St. Edward’s education and is vital to success in the workplace. This funding will help us expand internship opportunities and ensure that these transformative experiences are available to all students who walk through our doors,” said Jonathan Hodge, dean of the School of Natural Sciences.

St. Edward’s University has a long-standing relationship with the USDA and is proud to earn this outstanding achievement and recognition aligning with the goals of Strategic Plan 2027 as we continue our commitment to provide educational quality, an inclusive environment, advancement of knowledge, experiential learning and student success. We value the support of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the E3 program’s efforts to diversify the FANH workforce and build infrastructure that transforms the undergraduate experience on the hilltop.

About the NextGen Program

The primary goal of the From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program (NextGen) is to enable 1890 institutions, 1994 institutions, Alaska Native-serving institutions and Native Hawaiian-serving institutions, Hispanic-serving institutions (specifically, the certified Hispanic-serving agricultural colleges and universities (HSACUs), and insular area institutions of higher education located in the U.S. territories to build and sustain the next generation of the food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences (FANH) workforce including the future USDA workforce primarily through providing student scholarship support, meaningful paid internships, fellowships, and job opportunity matching, and also facilitating opportunities to learn the processes and pathways leading to training and employment in the federal sector.

About the U.S. Department of Agriculture

The USDA provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management.

The USDA has a vision to provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve our Nation's natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.

About St. Edward’s University

St. Edward’s University is a private university in the Catholic, Holy Cross tradition with approximately 3,600 students. Located in Austin, Texas, it is one of the top universities in the state and offers more than 55 undergraduate and 8 graduate programs. St. Edward’s delivers a premier, highly personalized education that provides students distinctive academics and extensive internships, research and service learning opportunities on a vibrant and inclusive hilltop campus in a world-class city. St. Edward’s has been recognized for 20 consecutive years as one of “America’s Best Colleges” by U.S. News & World Report. In the 2022-2023 Best Colleges rankings, St. Edward’s remains in the list of top 10 Best Regional Universities in the West for the 4th consecutive year.