Stanislaus State has received a $275,000 three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a new undergraduate concentration in food safety — a vital need in the Central Valley’s agricultural industries.
The USDA announced on Friday that Stanislaus State is among 21 universities to receive a National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grant for the University’s Career Ready — Ag Food Safety program, which will facilitate the planning and implementation of a food safety program as a curriculum concentration.
“This grant will allow us to increase our agriculture footprint at Stanislaus State by adding a concentration in an area that is critical to the industry in the Central Valley,” President Ellen Junn said. “It will help us serve members of the next-generation workforce who may not have thought about food safety as a career. We want to train them to move seamlessly from education into industry.”
The grant will help Stan State develop a cross-disciplinary program designed to attract students from underrepresented and underserved populations who might lack understanding of the breadth of career opportunities available to students who complete a science-based curriculum, gain industry-recognized certifications and participate in experiential learning placements within agriculture industries.
The project addresses two priorities:
· Attract and support undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented groups to prepare them for careers related to the food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences; and
· Provide opportunities and access to FANH careers in the public and private sector.
The Career Ready — Ag Food Safety pathway is a progressive step in aligning industry needs and educational output. The program will allow students to recognize career opportunities they may not have previously known about or considered. The proposed program will expand from the traditional focus of agriculture majors by incorporating STEM majors whose skills and knowledge complement the food safety needs of agriculture industries in our region.
“This new concentration will do a ton of good for students across our community looking to break into the food and ag industry,” said Rep. Josh Harder. “It’s so important we’re getting Valley kids ready for high paying Valley jobs. Our Valley feeds the world, and I’m so excited we’ll be training another generation to take the reins.”
Emily Lawrence, director of the National Ag Science Center at Stan State said the idea for the program came in response to what the university has heard from agricultural businesses in the Central Valley.
“The program provides training for an area in the industry that is really lacking,” Lawrence said. “Our faculty members have done so much work to lay the foundation during the past decade and have engaged with a relevant and critical segment of our region’s agriculture industry. This program will allow us to train students who will enter the workforce prepared for a career that plays a vital role in agriculture.”
Deans David Evans of the College of Science and James Tuedio of the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences said faculty members will develop a curriculum that is multidisciplinary and cuts across colleges.
“We’re calling it convergent disciplines because there are science, agriculture and business courses involved,” Evans said. “They are all coming together to provide this really robust and well-rounded curriculum for students to go into the field of food safety and quality assurance.”
Lawrence added that the program will feature a unique aspect by offering industry certifications as part of the curriculum.
“Typically, industry certifications are offered separately, such as Saturday or evening courses,” Lawrence said. “These certifications will be embedded in the curriculum so that students will graduate with this whole package.”
The grant includes funding that will cover tuition, books and other related expenses for an undergraduate student and will provide internship and mentoring opportunities for multiple students.
Stanislaus State is among 21 California State University campuses with an HSI designation. HSIs are defined under the Higher Education Act as colleges or universities where at least 25 percent of the undergraduate, full-time enrollment is Hispanic; and at least half of the institution’s degree-seeking students are low-income. HSI institutions are eligible for federal funding and grants from the U.S. departments of Education, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development to expand and enhance academic programs and recruitment efforts.
Founded in 1996, the National Ag Science Center has developed outreach programs with partners from the Stanislaus County community, ag industry and educational institutions. In 2019, the Center became part of Stanislaus State.