The grant was awarded by the USDA-NIFA Cooperative State Research Education & Extension Service.
When Texas Tech University met the initial student enrollment threshold in 2017 to be designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), researchers from the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources (CASNR) began having discussions with counterparts at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) on how that could benefit both institutions.
Specifically, their focus was on developing a pipeline between the two schools in order to increase and retain Hispanic undergraduate students for degree completion at Texas Tech and encourage pursuit of graduate degrees in agricultural and natural resources (ANR) disciplines.
The solution was to develop the Initiating and Mobilizing a Pipeline in Agricultural Careers Training (IMPACT) Program, designed to address the problems of low student retention, low degree completion and low pursuit of graduate degrees in ANR disciplines among Hispanic students. That program recently received a huge boost from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture's (NIFA) Cooperative State Research Education & Extension Service, which awarded Texas Tech researchers Amy Boren-Alpízar and Erica Irlbeck a $1 million grant.
"We are very excited to develop a program that will provide students in our region with both social support and career development activities to foster increased interest and commitment to pursuing a degree in agricultural and natural resource disciplines," said Boren-Alpízar, the principal investigator and an associate professor of agricultural leadership in the Department of Agricultural Education & Communications.
According to Boren-Alpízar, the focus of the project is to develop a regionally appropriate solution to increase retention and graduation statistics among Hispanic students, based on integrating the ideas of belonging, mentoring and support. Those three components were identified as most important during interviews with Hispanic students in CASNR, and by focusing on them, the hope is more Hispanic students will not only remain in the program and earn a degree but will pursue a graduate degree afterward.
To foster belonging, students in the program will be part of a cohort between Texas Tech and ENMU that meets bi-weekly for collaborative support and career exploration. Undergraduate students also will join an industry-related club while graduate students will be required to participate in an on-campus graduate student association.
The mentoring aspect will involve faculty advisors participating in a mentorship training program through Mentor Tech prior to starting in the IMPACT program. Students who join IMPACT at both Texas Tech and ENMU will complete an individualized development plan that their IMPACT adviser will use to guide the student's career development. IMPACT students at Texas Tech also will participate in Mentor Tech, and students at both schools will participate in TRIO peer mentoring services.
There also will be internship opportunities with ANR professionals and graduate students will receive additional professional development by applying to the Texas Tech Teaching, Learning & Professional Development Center (TLPDC) through its groundwork program.
Support for IMPACT students will come from monthly support modules and career exploration experiences with ANR professionals. During the May intersession, undergraduate and graduate students will participate in leadership development workshops, while undergraduate students also will complete career exploration in the ANR departments at Texas Tech.
The design of these activities is to encourage undergraduate students to complete their degrees and enroll in graduate school while encouraging graduate students to push through and earn their master's degree.
"There is so much we will be able to accomplish and learn through this program," said Irlbeck, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Education & Communications. "The cohort approach to the undergraduate students, the mentoring and pipeline are all novel ways to guide students through the university system. We are looking forward to the difference this program could make for these students."