Minorities at Woodson and Locust Trace find ag niche
Students from Carter G. Woodson Academy and Locust Trace AgriScience Center interact with professionals and build their personal skills through a partnership with the University of Kentucky and its MANRRS chapter. MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences) provides access and opportunities for groups typically underrepresented in these career fields. For example, a handful of black males from Woodson is working alongside UK professors on independent research projects, and about four dozen diverse students at Locust Trace are starting a Junior MANRRS chapter for leadership development.
Rhyan, who is paired with Professor Lisa Vaillancourt in Plant Pathology, actually leans toward music engineering, and his research is generally computer-based. “I’m doing this to be more well-rounded, and it’s actually pretty fun,” he said. “I’ll definitely be ahead in science classes, and I will have a feel for what college kids do.”
Vaillancourt, who judges projects in the regional science fair, launched the mentoring component three years ago. “Science fairs generally don’t have a good representation of minority students, particularly at the high school level,” she noted. After Woodson students impressed her in a TV news clip, Vaillancourt reached out to the school. The partnership has since grown with additional UK mentors and funding from the National Science Foundation. Student participation has also increased. “There are a lot of different STEM options, from economics to microbiology to pharmacy to engineering,” Vaillancourt said. “We need diversity in agriculture like so many STEM fields. There are so many opportunities if we could show people what we can offer and what these careers include – from energy to food to drugs to everything in between really, anything that’s plant- or animal-based.”
Staff in UK’s Diversity Office saw the Woodson connection as a good chance to introduce high school students to MANRRS as well. The program includes professional development such as resume building and public speaking, and mentors walk the students through the college-application process. “We’re learning how to network and present ourselves in a good way in interviews,” Rhyan added.
Out on the farm
Following UK’s initiative, Locust Trace students formed a MANRRS club at school. With interest burgeoning, the technical center this fall decided to start a Junior MANRRS chapter, which students hope will be official by winter break. Community liaison Eli Parham, the group’s adviser, noted how MANRRS ensures that diverse students are welcome to participate. “They see MANRRS as an opportunity to fit in,” he said. “There’s a business side, agricultural side, and a production side to it. We have a lot more students willing to become involved.”
The group has visited minority-owned farms and the Kentucky Horse Park to explore various jobs in the equine industry. Students have also collaborated with Lexington Parks & Recreation and Kentucky Farm Bureau on service projects, and mentored elementary kids. Once chartered, the chapter members will have more access to events on the UK campus as well as MANRRS regional and national conferences. Students can then participate in competitions, apply for scholarships, sign up for professional development, and more. “This group tells you stuff you wouldn’t normally learn in the classroom,” said Catalina Soriano, a junior from Lafayette High School on the veterinary assistant track at Locust Trace. Antyana Cowan, a sophomore from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, added that MANRRS helps build self-confidence in face-to-face encounters. “It’s an opportunity for practice so when we get to college, hey, we’re on top of it,” she said.
Parham noted that Locust Trace is beginning to reflect the diversity of the community. “The idea is to embrace those differences within the population and really show students that agriculture is for everybody,” he said. “It’s important to establish this program to represent this population we’re serving. Diversity is important here, and there is a place here for everybody. Through MANRRS, we can really push these students to achieve great things.”