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Discovering Alternative Careers in Agriculture through the E. Kika de la Garza Fellowship

Posted by Marquita Bady, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement in Equity Initiatives Research and Science
Dec 08, 2023
Claire Carpenter at Goat Peak, Washington

A longtime biology instructor at Yakima Valley College (YVC) in Washington state, Claire Carpenter works with YVC students throughout their undergraduate research. She has led small summer research projects and was interested in bringing more agriculture into both those projects and her classes.

She was selected as one of twenty fellows for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2022 E. Kika de La Garza (EKDLG) Fellowship Program. The fellowship introduces faculty and staff of Hispanic Serving Institutions like Yakima Valley College  to the USDA resources available to them. Fellows then share what they learned with students and colleagues at their home institutions.

Not only did Claire learn about USDA programs and resources while meeting USDA agency staff in Washington, D.C., but as an EKDLG Science Fellow, she also had the opportunity to partner with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratory and experimental farm in Wapato, Wash. to study the role of insects in transmitting agricultural diseases. ARS uses DNA sequencing to identify the stomach contents of insects to see what they feed upon and evaluate their effectiveness as pest control agents. This experience allowed Claire to view the damage caused by uncontrolled plant pests and understand the importance of USDA research in pest control. It also gave her insight into the technological applications of agricultural research.

Claire also teaches DNA sequencing in her classes, and she plans to share the experiences and knowledge gained from this program with her YVC colleagues and students.

“I believe that the opportunity to work with USDA researchers will inspire future projects that could provide opportunities for students to experience authentic science research early in their scientific and academic careers,” she said.

In her microbiology courses, she teaches students about the importance of insect vectors in the transmission of human diseases. She now includes plant pathogens in class content about vector-mediated disease transmission.

“Many students are not considering agricultural research or policy as a career, probably mostly because they have little conception of it as a viable scientific career path,” she said. “Many Yakima Valley College  students with an interest in science will benefit from learning about these and other career options for doing meaningful work with USDA.”

The application window for the 2024 EKDLG Fellowship Program opened earlier this week. Education Fellowships are open to faculty and staff at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, who will attend a one-week program in Washington, D.C. from July 8-12, 2024. 

Science Fellowships are open to science faculty at Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Science fellows not only attend the one-week program in Washington, D.C. but also spend an additional week collaborating with leading scientists at a USDA research facility. Visit Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program for more information.