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E. Kika De La Garza Fellow is a Farmer of Students

Posted by Joyce El Kouarti, Communications Director, USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement and Baleshka Brenes, Director of Agriculture Programs at the University of Arizona Yuma in Equity Initiatives
Feb 28, 2024
Baleshka Brenes, Director of Agriculture Programs at the University of Arizona Yuma

I am the director of agriculture programs at the University of Arizona Yuma (UAZ Yuma), a regional Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) that offers tailored degree programs that meet regional workforce's needs. The student population is approximately 70% Hispanic and first generation.

I teach courses in agricultural communication, global agriculture, ag leadership, and experiential learning; serve as a faculty advisor for agriculture students; and support outreach efforts to build the pipeline of students from middle school, high school, and community college. I work with industry and the community to ensure our students are prepared for the workforce. Part of my role includes writing grants to support students pursuing higher education. I am passionate about working with the Hispanic population and consider myself a farmer of students, cultivating the next generation of agriculture leaders through education.

My goals include growing as an individual, challenging myself, and developing new tools to better serve my community. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) E. Kika De La Garza (EKDLG) Fellowship offered the perfect opportunity to do this.

My most rewarding experience as a fellow was learning about USDA opportunities from all the different USDA agencies. Connecting and networking with top representatives was a privilege that not many people get the chance to do. Being an EKDLG Fellow increased my appreciation of how HSIs and USDA partner to solve the biggest agriculture challenges and prepare the next generation of agriculturists.

I am excited to have been able to share opportunities, such as USDA careers, internships and grant opportunities, with students and other UAZ faculty and staff. I also had the opportunity to take a group of UAZ Yuma students to a USDA Equity Commission meeting, where they had conversations about the legacy of Cesar Chavez. One of my students was selected to attend the USDA Ag Outlook Forum as one of the Future Leaders in Agriculture. We are proud that he got a chance to have a similar experience in Washington, D.C. as I did during the EKDLG Fellowship, but at a student level!

One of the best parts was meeting and making friends with faculty and staff from around the country with the same passion and thirst for knowledge to support Hispanic students as I have. Once you become an EKDLG Fellow, you become part of a greater family in your cohort, a true fellowship.

USDA is accepting applications for the 2024 E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship Program through March 4.

Category/Topic: Equity Initiatives