UTA hosts agriculture grant development workshop

Event focuses on ways to boost the number of students in agriculture science through federally funded research

Wednesday, May 29, 2024 • Greg Pederson :

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Participants in the USDA NIFA Grants Development and Grants Management Workshop for HSIs, which included UTA faculty and staff as well as USDA employees from across the country. More than 300 joined the workshop online.

The University of Texas at Arlington recently hosted a workshop focused on acquiring and managing grants to fund projects that can promote new research grant applications and increase the number of students — particularly underrepresented students — in agriculture science and other STEM fields.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), in partnership with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), organized the two-day Grants Development and Grants Management Workshop for HSIs (Hispanic Serving Institutions), which was held May 20-21 in the SEIR Building. NIFA, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides leadership and funding for programs that advance agriculture-related sciences.

More than 70 attended the workshop in person, with more than 300 others joining online. Attendees included NIFA administrators and staff as well as faculty members from UTA and other Hispanic Serving Institutions. The workshop was organized by the UTA Office of Vice President for Research and innovation and the Department of Mathematics.

UTA President Jennifer Cowley gave opening remarks welcoming the guests to UTA. Attendees included Venu Kalavacharla and Martha Sartor, NIFA deputy directors, and a group of 10 NIFA team members including national program leaders and communications staff. U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, sent remarks which were read by her representative, Carmen Ayala.

“The workshop provided excellent opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to learn about opportunities in USDA,” said Jianzhong Su, professor and chair of the UTA Department of Mathematics. “For climate smart agriculture to provide food and clothing for an ever-growing global population, we need workforce and technical expertise from land-grant universities as well as non-land grant universities. UTA, being a Carnegie R-1 university as well as a Hispanic Serving and Minority Serving Institution, is well poised for the challenge.

“The event was highly successful. We learned a lot, and NIFA and ARS officials got to know the existing UTA faculty expertise in agricultural-related areas through an ‘elevator speech’ session given by a group of UTA faculty researchers.”

The first day’s agenda included the following information sessions:

  • Grant writing (accessing funding information; understanding the Research Funding Act; funding opportunities at NIFA; mock panel Q&A);
  • Effective grant management (understanding award terms and conditions; accessing and using funding; impacts and the Research, Extension, and Education Project Online Reporting Tool, or REEport, NIFA’s primary grant reporting application for competitively awarded projects).

The second day’s agenda included the following info sessions:

  • USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which offers grants to qualified small businesses to support high-quality research related to important scientific problems and opportunities in agriculture that could lead to significant public benefits;
  • Internships and employment opportunities with USDA;
  • Partnering opportunities with the ARS, USDA’s chief scientific in-house research agency. ARS is a world-class research organization and seeks to find solutions to agricultural problems that affect people daily, from field to table;
  • Crop Assistance Program (CAP) proposal development;
  • CAP grant management.

Prasanna Gowda and Joseph Rich, USDA ARS associate directors for the Southeast and Plains areas, respectively, hosted the second day’s afternoon event and discussed collaborations with ARS and technology transfer.

Su is principal investigator of a project funded by NIFA with a three-year, $500,000 Agricultural Workforce Training grant in 2022. The project, titled “Developing an Alliance for Training and Apprenticeship in Climate-Smart Agriculture (DATA-Ag),” is aimed at increasing the number and diversity of students who pursue careers in agriculture, enhancing students’ educational experiences, and creating a technology- and data-savvy workforce.

Keaton Hamm, UTA assistant professor of mathematics, and Jaime Cantu, UTA adjunct professor of engineering, are members of the project team. Other partners in the project are Texas A&M University at Kingsville, New Mexico State University, and community colleges in Texas and New Mexico, including Tarrant County College.

“The project team is working with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and other partner community colleges to develop training, mentoring and developing curriculum in climate-smart agriculture, and using data-driven technology to serve agricultural needs while it reduces climate impacts from farming,” Su said.

In May 2023 UTA was host of a daylong Climate Smart Agriculture Symposium during which participants reviewed the project’s first-year progress, with an emphasis on climate smart agriculture and natural resource conservation. One of the event’s goals was to connect students directly with USDA staff, industry partners and potential employers through an industry panel discussion and a career fair.

In May 2022, UTA hosted a Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop. Topics included mentoring students in climate-smart agriculture; increasing STEM participation from underrepresented and underserved groups; fostering networking among NRCS, universities and community colleges; creating career pathways for community college STEM students; and developing a federal pathway program.

For the third consecutive year, Su and Gautam Das, UTA professor of computer science and engineering, are leading a team of faculty which conducts a USDA ARS intern project. The project involves a group of about 20 students who assist ARS scientists in using machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science for agricultural research. This has led to several new UTA research projects with ARS.


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