The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced yesterday that it has awarded $10M to Northern Marianas College to help create, cultivate and expand the “Next Generation” Food Science, Agriculture, Aquaculture, Human Sciences and Agritourism workforce for the Northern Mariana Islands.
The USDA competitive grant will fund an NMC-designed workforce development program that aims to contribute to the economic and socio-cultural growth of Pacific Islander and other underrepresented insular communities in the U.S.
“We need to ensure our youth have the education and training they need to accelerate the development of an agricultural system that is climate-smart, sustainable, profitable and equitable,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This historic investment from the Biden-Harris Administration in our nation’s Minority-serving Institutions brings us closer to building a workforce that represents the richness and diversity of all the communities we serve.”
According to the USDA announcement, the grant program, entitled “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program,” is meant to foster the next generation of diverse food and agricultural professionals across the nation.
Scholarship and financial aid will be provided to both undergraduate and graduate students to diverse the professionals in food, agricultural, and related sciences to workforce development in the NMI.
“We look forward to funding undergraduate and graduate degree scholarships and strengthening the CNMI’s scientific and economic capacities while contributing to building the knowledge-based economy,” said Interim Dean of NMC CREES Patricia Coleman.
The USDA announcement further stated that the program is funded by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to lower costs for American families, expand access to markets to producers from all backgrounds and communities, build a clean energy economy and strengthen American supply chains.
Additionally, USDA stated, the grant “will enable eligible institutions, from New York to the Northern Mariana Islands, to build and sustain the next generation of food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences workforce. This includes efforts to strengthen USDA’s workforce through enhanced educational support, experiential learning and exposure to early career opportunities.”
The NextGen grant initiative at NMC was led by Dr. Zaidul Sarker, NMC CREES Professor and State Program and Food Science Leader, and Dr. Yunzi Zhang, NMC Business Department Professor.
“This grant will greatly contribute and encourage our NMI students to pursue higher education which will increase local capacity and career offerings in Food Science, Agriculture, Aquaculture, Human Sciences, and food processing and value-added food production from local produce, as well as its infrastructure in food-related knowledge building,” said project director Dr. Zaidul Sarker. “I am also glad that it will greatly contribute to building an inclusive food environment for local communities and incoming visitors.”
“The NMI may become a future regional hub for learning and career development in agri-tourism, such as in diversified value-added food branding, farm-to-table food operations, farm lodging services and sustainable farming education programs for visitors,” said project co-PD Dr. Yunzi Zhang.
“We thank the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) for selecting NMC for this competitive grant, and we especially want to congratulate our very own Dr. Zaidul Sarker from our CREES program, Dr. Yunzi Zhang from our School of Business, and our Interim Dean of CREES, Patty Coleman, for their incredible work in securing this grant,” said Dr. Galvin Deleon Guerrero, NMC President.