Expanding Access to Alabama Agriscience (EA3)
This NSF INCLUDES planning grant is funded by NSF Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES), a comprehensive national initiative to enhance U.S. leadership in discoveries and innovations by focusing on diversity, inclusion and broadening participation in STEM at scale. The goal of this planning grant is to form a partnership of stakeholders to identify barriers and opportunities to broadening participation in agriscience-related careers across Alabama. The great challenge of modern agriculture is how we continue to feed Earth’s growing population in the face of shrinking farmable land and increasing climate change. One solution is to use genomic tools to identify and incorporate genetic changes that increase yields in the face of decreased inputs and uncertain environments. The demand for the workforce to use these tools is projected to grow faster than the national average, but as in other STEM fields, women and ethnic minorities are currently underrepresented in these agriscience-related careers. Alabama has historically lacked a common vision to expand and weave individual initiatives, resources and expertise into a coordinated network that provides learners with a pathway towards agriscience-related careers. We are program-rich but “coordination-poor”. This proposal seeks to generate a shared awareness of the current landscape, deepen cross-sector relationships and build a common vision for how to broaden agriscience participation from elementary school through the workforce.
The planning proposal has four key objectives: (1) Engage Alabama’s agriscience and educational stakeholders in a collaborative partnership to build cross-sector relationships and identify a common vision to broaden participation across the agriscience workforce (2) Identify the agriscience-related opportunities for student engagement, career exploration and workforce development that are currently available to Alabama learners, (3) Recognize the geographic, academic, financial and cultural barriers that limit student access to these opportunities, (4) Cultivate approaches to overcome these barriers, through modifying/scaling existing initiatives as well as developing new ones. The planning process will utilize collective impact concepts as well as the NSF INCLUDES collaborative infrastructure elements of Shared Vision, Partnership and Goals and Metrics. EA3 partners includes K-12 STEM and Career and Technical Education programs, as well as out-of-school organizations like Future Farmers of America, Alabama 4-H, the Boys and Girls Club and the Educational Outreach team at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Research and teaching faculty from Alabama A&M, Auburn and Tuskegee universities, together with the plant genomics team from HudsonAlpha, link scientific discovery and workforce development. Lastly, the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Extension offices provide a direct connection to the state’s agriscience industry. Over a 14-month timeframe, this team will assemble for eight videoconferences and five in-person meetings, held across Alabama. The outcomes of these meetings will be woven into a statement of shared vision and an integrated strategic plan for increasing participation in Alabama’s agriscience-related careers. This will have a lasting impact as stakeholders use the knowledge gained through the planning process to develop experiences that effectively boost the participation and retention of underrepresented populations in agriscience-related fields across Alabama.
This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.