NIFA Grants Support Florida International University in Leading the Way for Promoting Agri-Science

With the help of USDA NIFA Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) grants, Florida International University started its Agroecology Program in 2005 with a focus on sustainable urban agriculture. As one of the nation’s largest public research universities, FIU’s Agroecology Program offers hands-on production skills for students who have been raised in urban environments with no background in agriculture. The program offers an 18-credit hour Agroecology Certificate, a variety of research internships, workshops and study tours. Students have established a campus Organic Garden, with specialized projects such as drip irrigation system, meditation garden, herb garden, fish pond and waste-food compost.

“We did not want to stop with our first grant in 2005,” said Dr. Mahadev Bhat, co-founder of the program. “In a university like ours with no state mandate for agricultural education, every external grant counts and every dollar counts.”

The FIU faculty later secured two additional HSI grants, two International Science Education (ISE) grants and two Multicultural Scholars Program (MSP) over the years, with a total NIFA funding of $1.3 million. These grants increase teaching capacity, give paid international agricultural internships, and give college scholarships to 10 multicultural students. The program offers summer workshops for K-12 teachers and internships to high school students. The program is founded on a strong collaboration with the Miami Dade Public School District, USDA-ARS Agricultural Research Service, non-governmental research foundations, local organic farmers, and community gardens.

“Our high school program is a way to pipeline under-represented high school students into higher education agricultural science programs,” said Dr. Krish Jayachandran, co-founder of the program. “Some of our current MSP students started as high school interns under our first HSI program.”

Students, staff and faculty members maintain the campus garden in an environmentally sustainable manner and increase awareness about locally grown food in the university. It was a proud moment for the FIU community when their Organic Garden was recently designated as a USDA People’s Garden. Three of their graduates have found employment in various USDA agencies and several of them are pursuing graduate degrees in the nation’s top agricultural universities. The FIU Agroecology students are now helping certain churches, schools and old-age homes to build their food gardens.

“One of the unique things about this program is that it came out of the grass-roots as a result of students’ interest, faculty commitment, and their relentless effort in pursuing multiple funding sources within NIFA and elsewhere,” said Dr. Kenneth Furton, the Dean of the FIU Arts & Sciences College. The FIU Agroecology Program exemplifies a successful agricultural science education program in an urban university, playing a significant role in increasing the number of under-represented people in the future agricultural work force. For more information, please visit

The FIU Agroecology Program is granting 15 scholarships to train students for careers in agriculture, food and natural resources sciences.

The scholarships, worth up to $24,000 each, can be used to fund lab research, presentations, service-learning activities, engagement projects, internships and professional development workshops. It also offers the opportunity to receive an 18-credit hour Agroecology Program certificate.

The funding for the scholarships is part of a $3.2 million grant given to the Florida-Caribbean Consortium for Agriculture Education and Hispanic Workforce Development (FCCAgE) program, a mutli-insitutionsal consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s Hispanic Serving Institutions Education Grants Program. It is made up by FIU, Miami Dade College, St. Thomas University, Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico and other not-for profit and government agencies, including Earth Learning and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

“FIU is continuously working to advance education and careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields,” said Mahadev G. Bhat, lead project director and Agroecology Program co-director. ”The university is also dedicated to serving underrepresented communities and promoting diversity. The FCCAgE program will, not only put the Agroecology Program on the national map, but it’ll allow us to further accomplish our university-wide goals.”

The scholarships are open, but not limited, to current and prospective FIU students in the biological sciences, earth and environment, chemistry and biochemistry, dietetics and nutrition and sociocultural studies majors. Applicants also need to be United States citizens and of Hispanic origin.