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COVID-19 slows progress on $1 million grant program

The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences has launched a new program to help with Hispanic advancement in education and career opportunities.

The Enhancing Hispanic Access to Natural Resource and Agricultural Careers through Education Mentorship and Training (ENHANCEMENT) program was made possible by a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture. The program is geared toward the career advancement of underrepresented students in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

A $1 million grant project in the College of ACES is off to a slow start due to challenges brought on by COVID. (Photo illustration by Carlos Lujan/Kokopelli)

ENHANCEMENT is headed by Dr. Alvaro Romero, an associate professor in the NMSU Department of Urban Entomology. The program is still currently in the recruiting process due to a slow start caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The initiation of the program has been slow due to the pandemic,” Romero said. “We are just recruiting students.”

Campus changes brought on by the COVID pandemic appear to have created obstacles, but there’s still time for the young program to adapt and grow. ENHANCEMENT began in September 2020 and is funded through August 2024. Graduate and undergraduate students in the College of ACES are encouraged to ask their advisors about participating.

The program is a collaboration between the NMSU main campus and the university’s two-year satellite campuses in Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Carlsbad and Grants. Undergraduate and graduate students will work together in mentorship, training and internships that will provide valuable career development. The program will also aid community college students transferring into four-year degree programs, and provide them with valuable career preparation.

In an interview last year with NMSU’s marketing and communications department, Romero elaborated on the goal of the program. “Our ultimate goal is transitioning these students into a graduate degree program,” he said. “The novelty of this project is that undergraduate students will interact with graduate students by developing research linked to the graduate students’ research, and faculty supervise these mentorships.”

A summary from the original grant proposal states:

“We have worked with the leadership at NMSU … to institutionalize on-the-spot hiring events with USDA FPAC [the Farm Production and Conservation department], and institutionalize programs that foster a clear transfer pathway. To accomplish our goals, we have gathered a strong and dynamic team with backgrounds spanning post-secondary education in biology, natural resources and agricultural education; high school student outreach programs; and federal workforce personnel.”

Kokopelli contacted the NMSU Research and Creativity office in order to gain more information about why, specifically, the rollout of the ENHANCEMENT program appears to have been delayed, but no one from that office had responded at the time of this story’s publication.

Students interested in learning more about the ENHANCEMENT program should contact any of the following faculty members:

Urban Entomology: Alvaro Romero, Ph.D.
Aquatic Ecology: Wiebke Boeing, Ph.D.
Ornithology: Martha Desmond, Ph.D.
Rangeland Ecology: Amy Ganguli, Ph.D.
Natural Products (Plants and Algae): Omar Holguín, Ph.D.

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