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An Agricultural Legacy: Agriculture Strides through the Generations

Posted by Carlos J. Harris, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Initiatives
Jul 16, 2015
Dr. Antoine Alston, professor and associate dean for academic studies in North Carolina A&T State University’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences
Dr. Antoine Alston is professor and associate dean for academic studies in North Carolina A&T State University’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. He is a nationally recognized student mentor, agricultural educator, and expert in the areas of diversity and inclusion.

Ever since their inception 125 years ago with passage of the Second Morrill Act, 1890 land-grant universities (LGU) have had a major impact on the lives of students in 18 states in the field of food and agricultural science.  The legislation was created to increase the number of minorities studying agriculture, food, natural resource sciences and the related disciplines.

One alumnus of the 1890 LGU educational system has a passion for giving back, and he has created a program that provides students access to educational tools that weren’t accessible before.

Agriculture is in Dr. Antoine J. Alston’s DNA; he’s a third generation 1890 LGU agricultural scholar, who received a baccalaureate and master’s degree in agricultural education from North Carolina AT&T (NC A&T) and his doctorate in agricultural education from Iowa State University.  His grandfather earned a degree in dairy science in the first graduating class from Delaware State University and his father received a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural education from NC A&T.

“Some of the major lessons that I learned from both my father and grandfather were to have an appreciation for the historical legacy that African-Americans have played in the development agricultural science and for the environment,” he said. “I was also taught by both to pass the legacy on to the next generation about agricultural science. My oldest daughter is now expressing interest in veterinary medicine as a future career option.”

When Alston returned to NC A&T in 2000, he was put in charge of overhauling the university’s agricultural education program, which happened to be the oldest degree program the school offered. While drafting his version of the perfect curriculum, he encountered neighboring students who desired higher education, but they lacked transferable credits from their two-year degree programs.  Alston wanted them to have the opportunity, so he developed the “2+2: Online Studies program.”

One of 2+2’s major success stories is the employment of its graduates, Alston said.  “Many are now working at the county level as extension professionals in various specialty areas, such as 4-H, agricultural and natural resources, and community resource development. This has really expanded the number of students who have the opportunity to pursue extension careers.”

The first 2+2 students graduated with degrees in 2006 and their number has increased to an average of 20 per year.

Alston’s dedication to creating future leaders includes hosting an annual summer youth residential program, called “The Institute for Future Agricultural Leaders.” Each year, 40 high school seniors from across the country are invited to NC A&T where they receive career and academic counseling. Laying down the groundwork for future innovators is the driving force behind all this.

“The most rewarding aspect of attending an 1890 land-grant university, particularly as an African-American male, is having the opportunity to obtain an education within an environment where you are taught by individuals who possess an understanding of your background, serve as professional role models for students, and have an appreciation of the unique historical legacy and significance of the institution within the context of American higher education and agricultural science,” he said.  

On May 6, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed an agreement that continues USDA’s commitment to 1890 LGUs for another five years.  USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is a major provider of funding and national program leadership to 1890 LGUs.  

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Category/Topic: Initiatives