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Purdue ASEC professors to bring mentorship for underrepresented students to 13 land-grant institutions

Levon Esters and Neil Knobloch, professors in the Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication (ASEC) at Purdue University, recently received funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to establish a ­mentoring network across 13 land-grant institutions.

Esters and Knobloch are co-project directors of a program called Multi-institutional mEntoring Network for Transforming Organizational cultuRe (MENTOR), which focuses on increasing underrepresented minorities and women in the agricultural and life sciences.

MENTOR will partner with six historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and seven predominantly white institutions (PWIs) to bring intentional and inclusive mentoring-based programs to these campuses.

“This project builds the collective capacity of and facilitates interactions between two disparate land-grant institutional types to help identify challenges and develop effective strategies to increase diversity in STEM-based agricultural and life sciences disciplines,” Esters said.

The mentoring initiative, based out of Purdue, will achieve this through three main strategies. MENTOR will distribute mini-grants to pilot mentoring programs at participating institutions, which will allow teams at these schools to tailor the initiative to the needs of the student body. Faculty leadership teams will receive a total of $15,000 over the next two years. Additionally, the program will sponsor two conferences to allow faculty leadership teams to network and share experiences from their home institutions. Finally, this initiative will create an online archive of best practices and outputs related to the successful recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minorities at land-grant institutions.

“The immediate and long-term success of this program is dependent on the ability of faculty leadership teams and participating students to strengthen relationships while sharing successes and challenges in creating inclusive and intentional mentoring practices,” Knobloch said.

Esters and Knobloch believe that mentorship, whether formal or informal, between students and faculty is the cornerstone to increasing representation in agricultural disciplines.

“Enhancing diversity leads to a plurality of experiences and new approaches and ways of thinking, which is the lifeblood of innovation and advancement,” Esters continued.

Institutions participating in the MENTOR program are Alabama A&M University, Florida A&M University, North Carolina A&T State University, Purdue University, Tennessee State University, Tuskegee University, University of Kentucky, University of Missouri, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Michigan State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Purdue ASEC professors Levon Esters (right) and Neil Knobloch Purdue ASEC professors Levon Esters (right) and Neil Knobloch

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