This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
You may be surprised by the answers you get when you ask a group of middle schoolers, “What do you like about science?”
Recently, 30 twelve and thirteen year-olds from the Coleman and TL Weston Middle schools in Greenville, Mississippi summed up their answers up with one brief sentence: “I like learning new things about the world around me.”
That’s why teams of USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Texas and Mississippi hosted tours of the laboratory to help support students develop their interest in science.
ARS scientists across the nation routinely engage in outreach activities, whether they are classroom interventions or similar hand-on lab tours. But this tour was uniquely different because all of these students live in persistent poverty counties. “Persistent poverty” areas are defined by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) as a census tract where 20% or more of the residents have lived under poverty for 30 plus years. This definition is also a large part of how USDA determines target areas for its StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity, an outreach initiative launched by Secretary Vilsack in 2010 to increase partnerships and leverage resources towards poverty-stricken rural communities.
The Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area coordinates tours specifically aimed at piquing the interests of young women and children of color in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition to promoting inclusion as a part of StrikeForce, REE’s efforts support the administration’s emphasis on increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in the field.
President Obama has identified STEM as an inextricable component of both a skilled workforce and a successful 21st century economy. Ensuring that such an influential field is representative of the American population not only promotes innovation by drawing from a diversity of perspectives, but it can help open pathways for professional and academic growth and development. For students in persistent poverty and StrikeForce counties, these pathways aren’t always plentiful. USDA agencies work every day to improve the growth and development of rural communities.
REE plans to continue sparking an interest in STEM among young women and underrepresented minorities in persistent poverty areas. It’s important that we cultivate a lasting connection between local scientists, schools, and other youth agricultural programs.
After all, USDA is filled with professionals who have made a life around their passion for agricultural science. Outreach events like this demonstrate that this passion is a gift that can be shared and never stops giving.
That is what we like about science.