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NMSU SAFE grant fellows attend first training in San Marcos, Texas

Three graduate students from New Mexico State University?s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences recently attended their first training course as part of a grant to increase the number of Hispanics in food and agricultural sciences.



NMSU graduate student Michael Canton works on a project as part of the SAFE USDA fellowship program. (Courtesy photo)

Students Denisse Lopez, Vanessa Martinez and Michael Canton are enrolled at NMSU as part of a grant titled, ?Southwest Agriculture and Food Security Education: Preparing Future Leaders for a Safe and Secure U.S. Food Supply System,? also known as SAFE. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture?s Hispanic Serving Institutions Education Grants Program awarded a nearly $1 million four-year grant to two agriculture professors at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

Included in the grant is funding for 11 graduate students at Texas State and NMSU to study agriculture or a related science as the grant?s fellows. Also part of the grant is funding for travel and training, including a training course that took place May 18 and 19 at Texas State. It was the first training course for Lopez, Martinez and Canton as part of the grant.

Lopez is majoring in food science and technology, and Martinez?s major is community nutrition. Canton is majoring in fisheries, wildlife and conservation ecology.

Martinez, who was accepted into the program just before the conference, said she was inspired to apply for the SAFE fellowship while studying for her bachelor?s degree in agricultural science and community development at NMSU.

?We explored the food problems in the colonias of Doņa Ana County, and there I really got that exposure and became excited about being able to address this problem through this degree,? Martinez said. ?It?s always been my passion, to make sure everyone has access to good, healthy, quality food.?

Martinez said the conference at Texas State focused on bio agroterrorism, something she didn?t really think about previously.

?I really appreciated learning about our food source being threatened by things going on around the world because with all the research and literature done on food, we get so narrow minded we forget the implications that threaten our food,? Martinez said.

Once the program is completed, student participants will become certified by the Department of Homeland Security in Preparedness and Response to Food and Agriculture Incidents: Management and Planning Level. As part of the program, they will participate in five online Federal Emergency Management Agency courses related to agriculture and food supply safety, daylong USDA and DHS job shadowing activities, a summer USDA or DHS internship, a national and/or regional research conference and a professional development consortium.

?Students will gain six certifications offered by DHS and FEMA and an immense amount of experience with food security, food safety and agroterrorism, thus helping narrow the gap of underrepresented students in food and agriculture sciences,? said Efren Delgado, a student adviser and food science and technology professor in the Family and Consumer Sciences Department.

Delgado said NMSU and Texas State are working to strengthen higher education teaching programs in food sciences and agriculture, and improve enrollment and graduation rates among Hispanics.

?Minority-serving institutions are crucial pathways to first-generation Hispanic students to obtain graduate education and training,? Delgado said. ?Hispanics are the fastest-growing U.S. population but (are) unlikely to pursue agriculture and food science jobs.?

Delgado also pointed out NMSU is the only Hispanic-serving institution in the Southwest that offers a graduate program in food science.

To be a SAFE USDA fellow, students must be Hispanic/Latino, maintain at least a 3.0 GPA, be a full-time graduate student in both fall and spring semesters and participate in professional development workshops and online training in food safety and security.

For more information, visit http://aces.nmsu.edu/safe/index.html.