Research during Spring Break funded by $250,000 USDA grant

It wasn’t your typical Spring Break visit to the beach for OLLU students participating in a $250,959 grant funded project sponsored by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

While visiting the Texas coast, Torrence Campos, Julianna Collins, Aaliyah (Alex) Delgado and Sierra Jaramillo took part in marine field research on the gulf, explored the Oso Bay Wetlands, attended a talk on counterstory and toured research facilities at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and visited the local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office to learn about job opportunities and internships. They were accompanied by Dr. Briana Hauff Salas, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science, and Dr. Jamie Crosswhite, Instructor of Professional Writing and Communication.

OLLU ​ secured the grant from NIFA to develop career opportunities and access for underrepresented STEM students. 

The federal money from NIFA, a subordinate of the USDA, is part of a $1 million, four-year Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Education grant shared with the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Northeast Lakeview College (NLC).

This Ecological-JEDI approach aims to increase self-efficacy in STEM through a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) perspective.  

“I am thrilled to provide this incredible opportunity to our students, especially for the brand-new Environmental Science program at OLLU,” said Dr. Salas, a Co-Principal Investigator of the grant. “Our goal is to give our EcoJEDI scholars life-changing outdoor experiences and science communication skills, while getting them ready for graduate school and/or career opportunities at the USDA post-graduation.”  

The grant aims to build a city-wide collaboration to facilitate career readiness in food and agriculture sciences (FAS) through science literacy and counter-storytelling.  

“Counter-storytelling encourages students and their audience to include perspectives that are often considered marginal, subjective, and non-disciplinary, thus embracing explicit principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI),” said Dr. Crosswhite, a Co-Principal Investigator on the grant.   

EcoJEDI will bolster recruitment and graduation and establish a career pipeline with USDA by prioritizing the inclusion of historically marginalized and underserved populations through the collaboration of OLLU, UTSA and NLC, all of them HSIs. 

At OLLU, the grant funding is dedicated to driving student success initiatives, such as selecting student fellows, who will receive funding to attend regional and national conferences and engage in environmental science and natural resource learning opportunities such as the Spring Break visit to the coast.

These students are also honing their communication and leadership skills, crucial for career readiness. Students have the unique opportunity of collaborating with their peers from across San Antonio. This city-wide network of access and support aims to make visible the community stories and marginalized perspectives that are seldom visible.  

Along with Dr. Salas and Dr. Crosswhite, the other Co-Principal Investigators of the grant are: Jeffrey Hutchinson, UTSA Associate Professor of Integrative Biology; Sue Hum, UTSA Professor of English; Vikram Kapoor, UTSA Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Gwen Young, UTSA Associate Professor of Integrative Biology; and Laura Perry, Northeast Lakeview College Professor of Biology.