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USDA Selects 2023 Class of E. Kika De La Garza Fellows

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2023 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today welcomed 30 faculty and staff from Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) around the nation as the 2023 class of E. Kika De La Garza Fellows to Washington, D.C. to learn more about USDA services and programs that will benefit them and their students. This effort is part of USDA’s commitment to advance equity in professional development opportunities as well as build a more diverse pipeline into public service and the agricultural sector.

Beginning on July 10, 2023, E. Kika De La Garza Education and Science Fellows will spend one week meeting with leaders from different USDA agencies in the Washington, D.C. area, where they can learn about national and regional issues, policy making and research. Following that weeklong session, E. Kika De La Garza Science Fellows will spend an additional week collaborating with top scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) or the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“The selected fellows will meet directly with USDA agency representatives to learn about the opportunities available to their respective institutions and their students,” said Dr. Lisa R. Ramírez, director of USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. “This program exemplifies USDA’s commitment to ensuring equitable access to the department’s programs, services and resources by underserved groups.”

Since the E. Kika De La Garza Fellows Program was established in 1998, USDA has hosted more than 300 faculty and staff, a key effort in strengthening relationships with Hispanic-Serving Institutions. HSIs are accredited and degree-granting institutions of higher education with a full-time Hispanic student enrollment of 25 percent or more. Currently, there are more than 500 HSIs nationally, serving more than 2 million students. All E. Kika De La Garza fellows are faculty or staff at HSIs or Hispanic-Serving School Districts.

The 2023 E. Kika De La Garza Education Fellows are:

  • Blanca Acevedo, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, Ill.
  • Ryan Amaral, Modesto Junior College, Modesto, Calif.
  • Tatevik Avetisyan, California State University, Chico, Chico, Calif.
  • Maruthi Sridhar Balaji Bhaskar, Florida International University, Miami, Fla.
  • Michelle Batchu, St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.
  • Baleshka Brenes, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.
  • Cosmo Costales, College of the Sequoias, Visalia, Calif.
  • Dawn Cummings, Community College of Denver, Denver, Colo.
  • Michelle Hasendonckx, California State University, Channel Islands, Camarillo, Calif.
  • S. Otto Khera, Western New Mexico University, Silver City, N.M.
  • Maj-Britt Kimm, California State University, Monterey Bay, Seaside, Calif.
  • Xiangping Liu, Texas State University, San Marco, Texas
  • Julie Ann Lucca, Los Medanos College, Pittsburg, Calif.
  • Benjamin C. Miele, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas
  • Syndia A. Nazario-Cardona, Universidad Ana G. Mendez, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Sierra Netz, Central New Mexico Community College, Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Circe Niezen, Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, Hato Ray, Puerto Rico
  • Vanessa Oddo, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
  • Jhones Sarturi, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
  • Edward D. Vargas, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Maureen Victoria, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas
  • Nancy Vu, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, Calif.

The 2023 E. Kika De La Garza Science Fellows are:

  • Pride Abongwa, Texas A&M University, San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas
  • Felipe Aburto, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • Kalynn Baldock, Eastern New Mexico University, N.M.
  • Samuel Discua Duarte, University of Arizona, Yuma, Ariz.
  • Isolde Francis, California State University, Bakersfield, Bakersfield, Texas
  • Kalyani Maitra, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, Calif
  • Adela Olivia Chavez, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • Elizabeth Padilla-Crespo, Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

The E. Kika De La Garza Fellows Program is part of USDA’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program, which is committed to supporting a 21st century agricultural workforce through professional development, workforce development and exposure to opportunities for faculty, staff and students. Through this program, USDA also partners with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to provide high quality internship experiences, placing more than 3,000 interns since 1994.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production and fairer markets for all producers. USDA is dedicated to ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers. In order to reach these goals, USDA encourages the use of climate smart food and forestry practices. USDA is making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America and is committed to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit


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