USDA grant seeks to mentor, promote women in agricultural fields

Research & Innovation

Jayme Blaschke | August 29, 2022

student and faculty member looking at plant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields Grant Program (WAMS) has awarded Texas State University a grant in support of the Mentorship and Promotion of Women in Agriculture (MPOWA) initiative.

drewery headshot
Merritt Drewery, Assistant Professor of Applied Animal Science

Merritt Drewery will serve as project director (PD) for the three year, $100,000 program. Tina Cade will serve as co-PD and Manuel Pina, professor emeritus Texas A&M University, will be external evaluator.

MPOWA encourages persistence of underrepresented students, with an emphasis on rural Latina and Black females, in food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences (FANH) degrees and careers within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) community. This addresses two national education issues: ethnic and gender disparities in STEM fields as well as an overall deficit in the number of STEM graduates to needed to fill available FANH positions.

The approach of MPOWA is to employ near-peer and traditional mentoring, complemented by professional development, with underrepresented high school students to develop their science identity and career intention. Science identity is the personal feeling that one is a scientist and that others view one as a scientist. Lacking science identity is pronounced in underrepresented populations and is linked to attrition in STEM.

Over the course of three years the program will recruit 20 high school students from underrepresented populations and place them in one-semester near-peer mentoring relationships with Texas State undergraduates from similar backgrounds. Undergraduate mentors provide high school mentees psychosocial and academic support. Traditional mentorship is also provided through faculty-high school student meetings and STEM professionals give seminars to students.

female student spraying plants with water

The research team will collect data on changes in attitude, behavior and action with a specific emphasis on science identity and science career intention. They will also employ an evaluation plan with formative and summative components to develop MPOWA into a transferrable model to other academic units. Through data collection and dissemination, transform STEM education within FANH and diversify the STEM community, thus addressing our identified national education issues.

WAMS is a competitive grants program supporting research and extension projects that will increase — to the maximum extent practicable — participation by women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in STEM fields.

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922