N.C. A&T students hug at graduation recently. Increasing graduation rates among high school and college FANH sciences is a goal of the center.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded a $1.2 million grant to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and seven 1890 consortium partners to help improve the recruitment, retention and graduation of diverse students in the food, agriculture, natural resources and human (FANH) sciences.

With the grant, the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has established the 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development (SSWD), in partnership with co-leads from Florida A&M University, Fort Valley State University, Lincoln University, Tuskegee University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Virginia State University.

These co-leads collaborate in a consortium that serves the remaining 1890 institutions and work seamlessly with the 1890 Universities Foundation to ensure that the SSWD Center advances the recruitment, retention, graduation and placement of underrepresented students in the food, agriculture, natural resources and human (FANH) sciences.

The SSWD center has four objectives:

  1. Provide STEM and experiential learning opportunities to high school and college students;
  2. Recruit, retain, mentor and graduate first-generation, underrepresented students at 1890 land grant institutions;
  3. Deliver workforce development experiences for students to enhance the pipeline from secondary to postsecondary to graduate programs to careers;
  4. Develop strategies to integrate emerging technologies into the academic curriculum.

Animal sciences students work in a lab on a consortium campus.

Each of the consortium’s partners has a leading role in realizing these objectives. Virginia State University and Florida A&M University provide leadership for the experiential learning objective. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and N.C. A&T are leading the objective to recruit, retain, mentor and graduate underrepresented students. Tuskegee University and Lincoln University are leading the objective of delivering workforce development experiences. Fort Valley State University and University of Maryland at Eastern Shore are developing strategies to integrate emerging technologies into curriculum.

The center was established in response to the national need to increase the participation of students from underrepresented minority groups in FANH sciences careers, and narrow the gap between the supply of graduates and the number of open jobs in those careers. The 2020-2025 job projections, published by the USDA NIFA, place the annual number of job openings in the FANH sciences at 59,400, while the number of graduates in those careers is projected to be just 36,100 per year. The difference between the number of jobs and the number of qualified graduates leaves a gap to be at least partially filled by non-majors. This gap is even larger for minority groups; for example, in 2017-2018, African American graduates represented only about 3.2% of the FANH sciences graduates.

The 1890 land-grant institutions are well positioned to play a central role in changing the views of students from underrepresented groups, who can be hard to recruit to the FANH sciences because they may not see a professional future in them. The SSWD Center provides a platform to allow all 19 of the nation’s 1890 land-grant institutions to develop, and evaluate, effective programs for attracting, recruiting, retaining, mentoring, graduating and then placing minority students in the FANH sciences. The center also serves as a hub for sharing resources on best practices, educational materials, evaluation tools, and data on agricultural-career development while strengthening partnerships among the 1890s institutions; the USDA;, public organizations, such as the 1862 land-grant universities and the 1994 Tribal College universities; and private organizations.

A student presents her research findings at an event recently. The consortium is seeking to boost diverse student engagement in STEM and FANH sciences.

The 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development continues, and expands, the work begun with the Center of Excellence to Motivate and Educate for Achievement (MEA Center of Excellence.) The MEA Center was established in 2020 at N.C. A&T through a $1.6 million grant from USDA NIFA, with the mission to encourage and support young people from underrepresented minority groups to pursue studies and careers in food, agriculture, natural resources, and (FANH) sciences.

Since its inception in July 2020, the MEA Center has supported 1,409 students from various 1890 land-grant universities, and has engaged 14 of the 19 1890 land-grant institutions in 16 funded projects. The center’s virtual platform is intended to enable faculty, researchers and participants in the consortium to collaborate and carry out recruitment and retention activities, develop and implement award-funded projects, conduct evaluations, showcase research projects and student presentations and publications.

In addition to fostering collaboration among the 1890 universities, the SSWD Center aims to strengthen their partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and engage other public and private organizations in collaborations to promote minority engagement and success in the FANH sciences.

Center Co-Leads

  • Mohamed Ahmedna-North Carolina A&T State University (Project Director)
  • Misty Blue-Terry- North Carolina A&T State University (Center Co-Director)
  • Paula Faulkner- North Carolina A&T State University (Center Co-Director)
  • Antoine Alston- North Carolina A&T State University
  • James Neil- Florida A&M University
  • Ralph Noble- Fort Valley State University
  • Adrian Hendricks- Lincoln University
  • Olga Bolden-Tiller- Tuskegee University
  • Nina Bennett- University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff
  • Jurgen Schwarz- University of Maryland Eastern Shore
  • Ray M. McKinnie- Virginia State University

The SSWD/MEA Center is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture/ National Institute of Food and Agriculture; Award #: 2020-38427-31516 and 2021-38427-34837.