PRINCESS ANNE, MD- (April 15, 2020)- A University of Maryland Eastern Shore researcher has received a $474,500 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA to increase the diversity of students from minorities underrepresented in Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human (FANH) sciences.

Dr. Victoria Volkis, a chemistry professor at UMES, is the project director for the grant entitled, “Summer Interdisciplinary Research and Extension Active Experiential Team-Learning Horticultural Program for Underrepresented in FANH Undergraduate Students.”

Over a period of five years during the summer, Volkis and Dr. Andrew Ristvey, a colleague at the University of Maryland College Park and Wye Research and Education Center, will train a total of 30 Research and Extension Experiential Learning for Undergraduate (REEU) fellows between the two facilities.

“Our summer REEU is a 10-week annual project involving novel horticultural phytochemistry studies using high-value specialty crops with unique phytochemical characteristics, cultural management, processing and nutrient preservation aspects including soil analysis, agricultural statistics, scientific sampling and outreach to local farmers,” Volkis said.

The goal, she said, is to attract chemistry, biology, environmental sciences and technology majors to careers in high-tech agriculture using hands-on learning techniques.  “These techniques have proven to be powerful tools to increase student’s awareness, involvement into studies, leadership and critical thinking abilities,” Volkis said.

Working in Volkis’ lab and at the Wye Research and Education Center, the three-man interdisciplinary teams will address a primary Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) 2018 Farm Bill priority area focus, “Plant Health and Production and Plant Products.”  It will indirectly address another of the six priority areas, “Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities,” she added.

NIFA-funded plant and plant product programs provide better understanding of plants, including how they grow, how to improve productivity  and how to use them in new ways. They also support education programs, such as Master Gardeners and the eXtension program, which brings science-based information about growing plants to the public.

The “Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities” priority area aims to promote prosperity and economic security for individuals and families, farmers and ranchers, business owners and consumers, which are “vital to a strong economy.”  NIFA’s research, education and extension programs help people “make sound financial management decisions, discover new economic opportunities, develop successful agricultural and nonagricultural enterprises, take advantage of new and consumer-driven markets and understand the implications of public policy on these activities.”   

Student progress will be evaluated and they will be counseled on graduate study opportunities, leadership training and professional development, Volkis said.  The result of the project will be a model that can be replicated in other institutions across the country for creating specialists well-prepared for high-tech agricultural careers.  

The project director, Dr. Victoria Volkis (above) and the project’s collaborative mentor, Dr. Andrew Ristvey, (right) are pictured in a summer field harvesting aronia.

Gail Stephens, agricultural communications and media associate, School  of Agricultural & Natural Sciences, 410-621-3850,

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