Innovators from Marginalized Communities:Interactive Labs Which Help Students See Themselves in Agricultural Careers

Potential for Advancing the Quality of Education

Institutional Long-Range Goals

When it comes to choosing a career in agriculture, several misconceptions may prevent individuals from engaging in potential fields of study, particularly students from underrepresented communities. These may include beliefs potential students may have—such as an unconscious belief that “students like them” don’t work in agriculture, a lack of role models, or the view that agriculture is “not real science”. Other barriers may include biases held by gatekeepers in a students’ community; such as political or cultural beliefs about the value of certain fields of study, the traditional trajectory of certain types of student, or the narratives regarding minorities in agriculture.

New Mexico State University (NMSU) and its College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) are committed to graduating students and helping them find success in their careers. As a land-grant university and a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), NMSU fosters learning, inquiry, diversity and inclusion, social mobility, and service to the broader community. Goals for student success in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education include enhancing curricula on interdisciplinary aspects of STEM and STEM-based skills (including exploring the role of STEM within society and other disciplines); increasing engagement of underrepresented populations in STEM education; and increasing the number of STEM-skilled individuals entering the workforce.

Recruiting students from marginalized communities, nurturing their interest, and supporting them while they pursue education or careers in these areas is crucial to meeting these challenges. This means fostering a deep, nuanced understanding of these issues while helping students to feel comfortable and accepted within these disciplines. It is important to help students see opportunities despite possibly having cultural biases, stereotypes or lack of understanding of the educational programs and careers available to them. Our students should graduate with an understanding of the diverse careers available within agriculture where they can thrive and become successful.

This project proposes additional research on biases held by students and perceived in others, specific to the diverse cultures in New Mexico, and application of that research in creating innovative teaching tools. The ultimate goal of this project is to give students a view into the lives of professionals who came from marginalized communities and became stellar examples within agriculture, while helping students see their place in agricultural careers by fostering representation, equity and inclusion.

The project will address Curricula Design and Materials Development through the design and creation of digital learning labs which give students the opportunity to virtually conduct research in the labs of historical figures in agriculture who came from marginalized communities. In replicating some of the important research of chile pioneer Fabián Garcia, outreach expert Fabiola C. de Baca and plant breeder Roy Nakayama, students will understand the innovative research of these leaders, connect that innovation to modern day equivalents, and potentially expand their view of who belongs in agriculture. Student learning and engagement will grow through the process of being introduced to these lesser known agricultural innovators, with classroom facilitation. The team will begin the process with research to identify the range of biases held by students and those who have influenced their thinking. They will analyze these findings, recognize trends, and test approaches for changing students’ mindset regarding these perceptions. These recommendations will then guide the specific activities and language used in labs to introduce learners to these agricultural trail-blazers. The labs will be implemented in high school and undergraduate courses to engage learners in grasping key concepts in agricultural science, applying those concepts in agricultural production and related fields, and sharing and expanding that knowledge through Extension. It will showcase traditionally marginalized agriculturalists from the history of agriculture. The products developed will engage learners using culturally appropriate learning methods and be accessible to large groups of learners. Our goal is to stimulate student career interests within FANHs by introducing them to a variety of researchers and disciplines in agriculture through technology implementation. We will then follow up with short videos or animations showcasing more modern versions of innovative careers and work in agriculture, also guided by the recommended messaging and narratives suggested by the research.

Proposed Approach and Cooperative Linkages

In concert with the goals of the HSI Education Grants Program objectives, the proposed work enables a research-based project to develop place-based, engaging learning tools that help students see themselves in agricultural careers, while building conceptual understanding of agricultural science topics.

Long term goals: Undergraduate students will expand their identity as someone with a potential career in agriculture and may increase their interest in pursuing a career in agriculture.

Activities for Proposed Approach

  1. Conduct formative research to identify biases students have held or experienced in others regarding traditionally held biases.
  2. Produce learning tools to be used at high school and undergraduate levels which engage learners with engaging activities which:
    1. Provide interactive learning experiences within multiple disciplines and careers.
    2. Showcase traditionally marginalized agriculturalists from the history of agriculture and in modern day work.
    3. Use culturally appropriate learning methods and are accessible to large groups of learners.
    4. Engage specialists from an advisory committee to ensure developed materials are usable, of interest to educators, and convey the right messaging.
  3. Share intervention with college classrooms through introductory classes in Plant and Environmental Sciences and Viewing a Wider World courses at a land-grant university. Explore sharing with broader audiences such as high school classes, extra-curricular programs, and community organizations.
  4. Measure the impact and outcomes of the learning tools on students’ interest in agricultural careers, and their sense of belonging.

Project timeline: October 2021 - October 2025

Year 1:

  • Conduct Formative Research
  • Identify key content and develop prototypes.
  • Convene advisory board
  • Measure Impacts and Outcomes:
    • Assess numbers of students receiving support, and graduation.
    • Annual interview of project directors on achievement of milestones, and progress.
    • Verify annual progress towards goals.

Year 2:

  • Production of products.
  • Convene advisory board to review products
  • As products become available start dissemination.
  • Introduce the products to the introductory classes in Plant and Environmental Sciences and Viewing a Wider World courses.
    • Explore sharing with broader audiences outside of the university.
  • Share Intervention with the college
  • Measure Impacts and Outcomes:
    • Assess numbers of students receiving support, and graduation.
    • Annual interview of project directors on achievement of milestones, and progress.
    • Verify annual progress towards goals.

Year 3: Production of products.

  • Production of products.
  • Convene advisory board to review products
  • As products become available start dissemination.
  • Measure Impacts and Outcomes:
    • Assess numbers of students receiving support, and graduation.
    • Annual interview of project directors on achievement of milestones, and progress.
    • Verify annual progress towards goals.
    • Student assessment: Conduct impact measures with students in intervention.

Year 4:

  • Advisory board meets to review progress and advise on content and potential distribution.
  • Completion of and dissemination of interactive virtual labs and videos.
  • Introduce the products to the introductory classes in Plant and Environmental Sciences and Viewing a Wider World courses. Explore sharing with broader audiences outside of the university.
  • Measure Impacts and Outcomes:
    • Assess numbers of students receiving support, and graduation.
    • Annual interview of project directors on achievement of milestones, and progress.
    • Verify annual progress towards goals. *Student assessment: Conduct impact measures with students in intervention.

© 2021 NMSU Board of Regents. All rights reserved. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. This material is based upon work supported by the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants Program, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 2021-77040-34879. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.