Dr. Engil Pereira, Associate Professor of the School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), was selected as a fellow in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2022 E. Kika de la Garza fellowship program. Dr. Pereira initially learned about the fellowship through her subscription to USDA mailing lists.
“The USDA holds significant importance in my training efforts as a potential employer for my students,” she said. “I wanted to learn about opportunities that could directly benefit my students, including internships, scholarships and educational initiatives.”
Pereira received more information about the opportunity from Ruby De La Garza, the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement liaison in Texas. She also received valuable insights and recommendations about the program from her academic network colleagues who are past E. Kika de la Garza fellows.
Pereira’s fellowship was with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at the National Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. Prior to her arrival, she collaborated with NRCS to plan a program for her students that aligned with her fellowship objectives. This included instrument training, a farm visit, lab visits, discussions about soil data, and meetings with staff members. This coordination provided a unique learning opportunity that can be rare to find after a student graduates.
“It was a truly enriching two-week program,” said Pereira. “We met with leadership from various USDA agencies who shared their goals and ongoing efforts. Many agencies demonstrated how their initiatives are carried out in collaboration with universities.”
A major highlight of the program was her cohort of 20 fellows from diverse fields and locations. They explored Washington, D.C., shared meals and fostered strong friendships.
A few months after the program orientation in Washington, D.C., she worked with a colleague from the cohort, Dr. Alok Arun, to provide a week-long soil analysis training for a group of his students in her lab.
As the director of the graduate program in Agriculture, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences at UTRGV, Pereira also found that the fellowship equipped her with the tools and resources to better guide student training efforts. She is now able to offer classes that qualify students for careers at the USDA.
“Learning more about career requirements and prospects has let me promote USDA as a potential employer within our student community,” she said. “I have been able to create partnerships that provide internship opportunities for my students, giving them the hands-on experience, they'll need in their careers.”