Agriculture News

April 12, 2017

Purdue researcher awarded USDA grant to support underrepresented students in ag, life sciences

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded $92,300 to Purdue University researcher Levon Esters for a program to increase the number of women and underrepresented minority students who complete graduate degrees in agriculture and life sciences.

The project expands on a current program that uses research-based effective mentoring practices to support underrepresented minority students already enrolled in graduate degrees. In the project’s next phase, Esters, an associate professor in Youth Development and Agricultural Education, will add a feeder program component that helps students from six partnering universities prepare for graduate school and supports them after they arrive on campus.

The universities - Alabama A&M University, Florida A&M University, North Carolina A&T State University, Tennessee State University, Tuskegee University and Virginia State University - are all historically black land-grant institutions.

“It is important to recruit underrepresented minority graduate students because their participation is needed as we address issues related to energy, health, education and the environment,” Esters said. “Without question, undergraduate education plays a key role in providing students with foundational knowledge and skills; however, graduate education is what gives students the advanced training they need to solve national and global grand challenges facing society.”

The project includes three components: a Pre-Graduate School Pathway Program, a Graduate School Feeder Program and a Graduate Student Retention Program.

Undergraduate students who participate in the pre-graduate program will work with Purdue graduate students to create a career development plan, which includes gathering graduate school application materials, preparing a career goals statement, applying for funding and selecting a faculty mentor.

The feeder program’s first level will help partnering institutions provide undergraduates with experiences shown to lead to success in graduate school, including internships and studying abroad. The second level will allow undergraduate and master’s degree students to work with faculty and student mentors at Purdue through the Mentoring@Purdue (M@P) Summer Scholars Program, with the goal of applying for a master’s or doctoral degree at Purdue. The M@P program was established as part of an earlier USDA-funded project.

The project’s third component, the retention plan, will provide women and underrepresented minority graduate students in Purdue Agriculture with opportunities to participate in a Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program and monthly mentoring workshops and seminars.

Esters will work with co-director Neil Knobloch, also an associate professor in Youth Development and Agricultural Education, and several graduate students.

“Many programmatic efforts tend to focus on helping prepare undergraduate students persist and complete their degrees,” Esters said. “However, future workforce trends indicate that earning a graduate degree will be key to students’ upward mobility and future earnings.”           

Writer: Jessica Merzdorf, 765-494-7719, 

Sources: Levon Esters, 765-494-8423,

Dottie Vollmer,

Agricultural Communications: (765) 494-8415;
Shari Finnell, Manager/Media Relations and Public Information,  
Agriculture News Page

Ag News

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

© 2015-17 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints | Maintained by Office of Strategic Communications

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact News Service at