Q: So what’s this Fellowship all about?
A: It’s the USDA’s E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship Program that enlists faculty and even staff from Hispanic-Serving Institutions like Union to work collaboratively with the USDA to help encourage more Hispanic students to become employed in federal-government jobs. As HACU (Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities) has pointed out, the federal workforce is only around 2 percent Hispanic. The Fellowship is one way the USDA is trying to turn this trend around.
Q: What do you get for the Fellowship, money-wise?
A: It doesn’t pay money. It pays in providing me with an opportunity to help Hispanic students find meaningful careers in federal agencies. In Texas, California and Florida, those states have regional directors to represent Hispanic-serving colleges and universities. In New Jersey, we don’t have regional directors, so someone from (New Jersey City University) and I are the only two fellows currently in the program.
Q: But then why are you personally involved?
A: First of all, as a Biology teacher, I have an interest in agriculture. But also as a faculty member at Union County College, I have a vested interest in all of our students. As a Fellow, I serve as a liaison between HSIs like Union and major federal agencies like the (National Science Foundation) and (the National Aeronautic and Space Administration) and the federal Department of Education. These agencies need our help to hire more Hispanic people for jobs and internships, and I am committed to helping the agencies recruit students in New Jersey—our students—and help spread the word.
Q: So this is just about jobs and internships?
A: No, also grants like Title V and a big one with (the National Institute of Food and Agriculture).
Q: And that relates to us how?
A: NIFA has a grant with an application due in February for an HSI to develop a program that fosters student success. Other grants through the USDA include funding for summer institutes to promote careers in the USDA, stipends for employees to transfer within USDA properties, and general careers in agriculture.
Q: You mean like living on a farm?
A: New Jersey is more of an agricultural state than people think. Rutgers has a land grant for NIFA agricultural land. Their programs are available for our students to pursue in areas addressing food security, hunger, food safety, food transportation, housing, and nutrition.
Q: And internships?
A: Yes, there are paid as well as unpaid internships. The USDA is open and willing to help us make connections for internships. The (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields tend to be most desirable, but there are other disciplines as well. For example, our relationship with the USDA may open up opportunities for students in the Paralegal program to pursue internships and careers addressing agricultural-law issues.
Q: So your being a Fellow is good for the College.
A: It’s enabled us to know the right people in federal government. The USDA wants to help us connect our students and staff to them. They will give us information on how to apply for grants, internships, jobs. The College’s Grants Director Cheryl Shiber sees this relationship as a real asset for the College. They even give me information to disseminate about how to purchase a farm or acquire a loan. They really understand the value of community colleges as a reflection of American society and consider us an excellent pipeline for building a more diverse federal workforce.