USDA and National Institute of Food and Agriculture Award TLU $275,000 Grant

October 22, 2015

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Funding supports hands-on research experiences in agricultural science

Texas Lutheran University is the recipient of a $275,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering, agriculture, and mathematics (STEAM) fields. Led by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Alison Bray, the project—Developing Students as Scientists: Redesigning the Undergraduate Experience through Early and Continued Research Experiences—will also enhance food safety by exploring how growing methods affect the amount of arsenic uptake by rice.

“This is a huge step for our chemistry department allowing us to develop the agricultural, environmental, and analytical components of our chemistry education,” Bray said. “The grant provides funding for a very modern piece of lab instrumentation that will launch us forward in our ability to analyze in-house for trace elements. This is a key piece of training for students going forward in chemistry careers.”

By training students in research and problem solving at the beginning of their undergraduate education, the program will improve recruitment and retention of students in STEAM fields, keeping them involved in research programs throughout their time at TLU. Participating students will receive hands-on experience in laboratory science, allowing for an easier transition into research projects, and ultimately, into STEAM careers.

Bray said the grant allows TLU to continue a working relationship with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) including the opportunity for students to intern in their labs. Bray will also focus on expanding outreach activities in chemistry and agricultural science with local students. Through on-campus interaction with TLU students and faculty, students at Seguin and Navarro high schools, as well as sixth-graders from Navarro, will have the chance to explore STEAM courses.

“We are extremely proud of and grateful for our partnership with the USDA,” said Sam Ehrlich, TLU director of corporate and foundation relations. “Being selected by an organization of this level not only elevates TLU’s position as an undergraduate research leader in this field, it allows the university to help students in our community visualize a college science degree as a personal and realistic option.”

About Professor Alison Bray

In 2014, Bray received an E. Kika De La Garza fellowship from the USDA. The 15 fellows, all from Hispanic-Serving Institutions across the nation, were selected based on the compatibility of their interests with USDA mission areas, as well as the value their experiences will add to their institutions' educational capacities. Bray’s experience as an E. Kika De La Garza fellow helped set up an pilot project at TLU examining rice and arsenic with TLU students Rhaya Johnson '15, Chad Ladewig '15, Nicole Pollok '15 and Sioned Kirkpatrick '16. Students including Amber Duelm, Madison Berger, Tricia Snow, and Tamara Koton are continuing to work on pilot studies in advance of launching larger projects that will be funded by the grant.

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