FIU receives federal designation from USDA

The FIU Agroecology Program hosts students from Miami Springs High School during a November visit to campus.

FIU is one of the first universities in the nation to receive the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s newly implemented Hispanic-Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities (HSACU) designation.

The USDA recently released a list of 71 universities that qualify for the designation, which was first approved in the 2008 Farm Bill. Similar to the way the USDA provides funding and research opportunities for the nation’s land-grant universities, the HSACU designation will provide new opportunities and funding sources for these 71 Hispanic-serving colleges and universities. FIU was selected based on its excellence in education, research and engagement in agroecology, aquaponics, nutrition and related disciplines.

“This designation is a testament to FIU’s efforts to develop programs of importance to our local communities and promote sustainability initiatives that have global significance,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “The USDA’s new designation opens up opportunities for FIU to enhance our community engagement.”

Currently, the university offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in environmental studies and nutrition. FIU also offers certificates in agroecology; environmental studies; and water, environment and development. New degree programs in sustainability studies, food safety and nutrition sciences are currently being developed.

“When we formed the School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) at FIU, the intent was to create a school focused on real-world solutions,” said Kenneth G. Furton, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, which houses SEAS. “Agricultural resources are among the most fundamental necessities to preserving quality of life, and the agroecology program in SEAS focuses on urban agriculture long-term sustainability.”

In recent years, the USDA has been looking to diversify its education and research network and future work force, which has given rise to the HSACU designation. Congress has created five different funding programs for HSACUs: the HSACU Endowment Fund, the HSACU Equity Grants Program, the HSACU Institutional Capacity-Building Grants Program, the HSACU Extension Grants Program, and the HSACU Fundamental and Applied Research Grants Program. As with any other new federal programs, the funding for the HSACU programs is subject to budget appropriations by Congress. However, HSACUs are now eligible to apply for competitive USDA funding programs, which previously were only open to land-grant universities.

“This new designation gives FIU a competitive edge to become the leading urban university in the country that provides agroecological education and innovative research solutions to urban food problems of the 21st century,” said Mahadev Bhat, professor in the Department of Earth and Environment and co-director of the FIU Agroecology Program.

FIU has had a long association with the USDA, collaborating on a variety of research projects in recent years and training the next generation of agriculture professionals.

“After seven years and 10 grants, the agroecology program has funded more than 150 students in scholarships, research, travel and professional development,” said Krish Jayachandran, Earth and Environment professor and co-director of the FIU Agroecology Program.

FIU is one of three institutions in Florida to receive the designation.