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E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship Gives Professor Inspiration and Confidence

Posted by MD Sharman, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement in Equity Initiatives
Jul 09, 2024
Dr. Maureen Victoria, visiting assistant professor at Sam Houston State University’s School of Agricultural Sciences

Being named a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) E. Kika De La Garza (EKDLG) Fellow means something different to each fellow. For Dr. Maureen Victoria, visiting assistant professor at Sam Houston State University’s School of Agricultural Sciences in Huntsville, Texas, it represented confidence, knowledge and inspiration. “It was life-changing,” she said. “It was probably one of the best weeks of my life.”

Victoria has been involved in agriculture since childhood. She grew up fixing things with her dad on their family member’s ranch. “I knew more about hydraulic hoses on tractors than I knew about flowers,” she said. She would spend summers working with cattle and goats, and she became heavily involved with Future Farmers of America in high school. Her roots in agriculture run deep, as her family in Colombia owned a small gelatin production company.

The EKDLG Fellowship brings faculty and staff from Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Hispanic-Serving School Districts to Washington, D.C. to learn how USDA services and programs can benefit them, their students, and their communities. Through the fellowship, participants meet directly with leaders at USDA agencies to learn about opportunities available for their institutions and students. Fellows frequently cite numerous benefits of being named a scholar, and Victoria has boiled it down to three.

Networking is a critical component of the fellowship, as higher education professionals are brought in from different geographical areas with different specialties. “Being a Latina in agriculture in Texas, it was amazing to join this network,” she said. “It’s almost like a little family.” As a new and younger faculty member, Victoria encourages all early-career academics to explore networking opportunities like these, as they gave her confidence in her field and in herself. “Younger faculty members often stick to familiar circles and wait until they feel comfortable to try new things,” she said. “Stepping out of your comfort zone can be really beneficial for you and your students.”

Victoria found inspiration in women leaders, particularly Dr. Lisa Ramirez, director of the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. “Dr. Ramirez changed the way that I think about preparing my students,” she said. “Now I see them from a more personal standpoint and push them to be their very best.”

Learning more about USDA programs and employment opportunities also emerged as a benefit of her fellowship. “I have more tools in my toolbox to help students,” said Victoria. “There are plenty of jobs for all types of people.”

Category/Topic: Equity Initiatives