Alcorn State University graduate Christopher Epps learned firsthand how a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) investment in a student’s educational career can have a lifetime impact.
“The 1890 National Scholars Program played a crucial role in shaping my future career, education and life goals,” said Epps, who recently started his new career as a soil conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Brunswick, Georgia. “This experience solidified my commitment to pursuing a career in agriculture.”
Epps’ passion for taking care of the land started with his lawn mowing business in Port Gibson, Mississippi. That led to him to growing squash and other vegetables to help feed his community.
“I learned about the 1890 National Scholars Program while attending a USDA summer program at Alcorn State University,” said Epps. “The program’s focus on supporting students pursuing agricultural degrees aligned perfectly with my aspirations.”
Epps was selected for the USDA/1890 National Scholars Program his sophomore year and interned with NRCS in Georgia in 2021 and 2022.
“Through the USDA/1890 National Scholars Program, students in underserved communities are exposed to USDA agencies, programs and professions, as well as USDA career opportunities,” said Michael Trusclair, who serves as the USDA liaison at Alcorn State University through USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE).
Each scholar receives annual tuition, fees, books and room and board for each academic year the scholarship is awarded, plus a requirement to work with USDA each summer. Scholarship renewal is contingent upon satisfactory performance and normal progress toward the bachelor’s degree. Upon completion of the scholar’s academic degree program, students are required to work for USDA for one year for each year of financial support received.
The knowledge and skills acquired through their USDA internships also add to a scholar’s resume.
“Prospective employers and graduate schools recognize the 1890 National Scholars Program as a prestigious accomplishment, giving me a competitive edge over other candidates,” said Epps.
The USDA/1890 National Scholars Program also provided networking opportunities that expanded Epps’ professional network and provided inspiration for his future career.
“I had the privilege of meeting influential figures at USDA,” he said. “These encounters allowed me to establish meaningful connections, gain insight into the industry, and receive mentorship from accomplished professionals.”