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In His Own Words: E. Kika De La Garza Science Fellow Alok Arun

Posted by Mariela Castaneda, Public Affairs Specialist, Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement and Alok Arun, Associate Professor, Inter American University of Puerto Rico in Equity Initiatives
Sep 26, 2023
Alok Arun

Since 1998, E. Kika De La Garza Fellowships have recognized highly accomplished staff and faculty at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Hispanic-Serving School Districts. Participants meet directly with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies to learn about opportunities are available for their respective institutions and their students. Science Fellows, like Associate Professor of Biotechnology Alok Arun from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico Barranquitas campus, also collaborate with leading USDA scientists and a USDA Research Center. Professor Arun shares his experience with the Fellowship Program.

My selection as one of USDA’s E. Kika De La Garza Science Fellows in 2022 opened many doors. I spent a week in Washington D.C. interacting with other fellows as well as leaders from various USDA departments. This allowed me to better understand the workings of USDA and to learn about its role in research, policy making, and other areas.

I learned about USDA’s funding initiatives to help HSIs excel at education and research in agriculture and allied areas. The fellowship also provided me with the unparalleled opportunity to spend an interactive week with Professor James Giovannoni, who heads USDA’s Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health and serves as professor at Cornell University’s Boyce Thompson Institute.

My association with Professor Giovannoni has continued beyond the fellowship: We co-wrote and submitted a proposal to USDA to secure funding to facilitate student exchange programs between two universities. Professor Giovannoni also attended and delivered a lecture at a symposium at my university in Puerto Rico.

In July 2022, I invited members of USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement to my host institution in Puerto Rico. The visit led to fruitful discussions that deepened our overall understanding of the issues that affect underserved communities and how OPPE addresses them through strategic partnerships. I later organized a seminar for teachers and students at my university to share information about the E. Kika De La Garza fellowship and my own experience as a fellow.

My experience as an E. Kika De La Garza Science Fellow has enhanced my professional development as an educator and researcher while helping me expand my network to benefit students and community members.

The E. Kika De La Garza Fellowships are managed by USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. To learn more, email or sign up to receive updates.

Category/Topic: Equity Initiatives