USDA-funded project focused on boosting enrollment of minorities in ag sciences

August 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State is among a group of land-grant universities embarking on a project that will support the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities and women in food, agricultural, natural resources and human sciences.

The Multi-institutional mEntoring Network for Transforming Organizational cultuRe, referred to as M.E.N.T.O.R., brings together faculty from land-grant universities and provides them with resources to develop campus-based diversity and inclusion mentoring programs, according to Rama Radhakrishna, assistant dean for graduate education in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

At Penn State, as well as many colleges and universities, underrepresented minorities are generally considered to include Hispanic/Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders and those of two or more races.

“Recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities has been a goal not only at Penn State, but other predominately white institutions,” said Radhakrishna of the three-year initiative, which is being supported by a $750,000 Higher Education Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“This project also will contribute to a more diverse population of graduates entering the ag industry,” he said. “The industry is facing challenges because there are not enough qualified candidates to fill open positions.”

The M.E.N.T.O.R. program connects students and faculty to create networking and interpersonal relationships that are essential for student success. Thirteen land-grant universities are involved, with Purdue University as the lead and faculty at Penn State and at Tennessee State University as co-principal investigators.

Graduate students will be paired with dedicated mentors whose goals are to help them succeed academically and professionally. Faculty from each university will develop mentorship programs and will evaluate the benefits of the project for students and faculty.

Penn State will lead the evaluation component of the project. An electronic repository will be established to store and disseminate best practices and models learned through this experience, Radhakrishna added.

Faculty mentors involved with the project have expertise in diversity and inclusion, science, technology, engineering and math education, and mentoring. “The goal was to have a team that is reflective of the expertise,” said Radhakrishna, who also serves as a professor of agricultural and extension education and evaluator for the project.

“We have a well-rounded, well-versed group of individuals who are dedicated to tackling not only the issues of recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities, but to becoming the best mentors to their mentees.”

Participants from the College of Agricultural Sciences include Kevin Curry, assistant professor of agricultural and extension education, Derek James, coordinator for multicultural affairs, Suzanna Windon, assistant professor of youth and adult leadership, Mallen Marlowe, doctoral candidate in agricultural and extension education, and Patreese Ingram, assistant dean for multicultural affairs.

Also involved from Penn State are Jamie Campbell, assistant dean, Smeal College of Business, and Stephanie Preston, associate dean for graduate educational equity for the Graduate School.

“This is a great opportunity for our college and Penn State,” Radhakrishna said. “Diversity and inclusion are the cornerstones in our strategic planning efforts, and we hope this project will advance those efforts, all while helping students achieve their best.”

More information can be obtained by contacting Radhakrishna at


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 03, 2020