Without farmers and the agricultural businesses that support them, no one can eat. This is a simple concept, but it implies that people will continue to choose careers in agriculture. Here at USDA, one of the ways that we encourage younger generations to choose these careers is offering grants to institutions that offer agricultural curriculums.
Through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA enables students to expand their knowledge of the agricultural industry. NIFA provides grants to schools such as the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) through the Hispanic Serving Institutions Program. This allows these institutions to offer top-notch agricultural curriculums.
This year, six students from UPRM’s Center for Education and Training in Agricultural Related Sciences (CETARS) Program interned with my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The program, which is directed by Dr. Felix Roman, offers research assistantships and other support to students in agriculture and related fields. The goal is for the students to land a position at USDA or other agriculture businesses after they graduate. These talented undergraduate and graduate students had a busy summer. I would like you to hear what they said about their internship:
Ruben Morales, Junior at UPRM studying Agricultural Engineering, interned with AMS Dairy Programs Marketing Order Operation Branch
I enjoyed going to Capitol Hill for the Future Leaders Conference hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI). It was awesome to be among hundreds of young people who are aspiring to be leaders in the government and private sector. We heard about job opportunities from large corporations like Ford, Google, and several government agencies. We got a chance to take a picture with US House Representative David Valadao, a first generation Portuguese dairy farmer from California. This moment inspired us all, showing that the sky is the limit if you put forth a lot of hard work and are dedicated to whatever you do.
Elena Flores, PhD Student at UPRM studying Applied Chemistry, Interned with AMS National Science Laboratory
I really enjoyed getting a chance to work in the chemical residue, food and dairy, and microbiology labs. I helped verify that food labels are correct and that the foods are of an acceptable quality. I really think that my experience will help me out in my research project at school, which is analyzing local foods.
In addition to this great experience, I really enjoyed getting a chance to visit with Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Executive Director Juan E. Hernandez Mayoral. During our meeting, we told him that CETARS does a lot of work to incorporate foods from gardens into the School Lunch Program. Mayoral told us that he would put us in contact with the First Lady of Puerto Rico, who is interested in these types of projects. Working on a project like this with the First Lady would make a real impact on my community in Puerto Rico.
Andrea Lopez-Rodriguez, Senior Student at UPRM studying Agricultural Science and Mechanical Engineering, Interned with AMS Seed Regulatory Testing Division
This was my first internship and it really blew away all of my expectations. One of the highlights of the summer was meeting Deputy Chief of Staff Oscar Gonzales and Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Ed Avalos. Both of these officials took time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. They shared some stories about how they got to their current positions, telling us to work hard and follow our dreams. This meant a lot to us.
Wesley Cuadrado-Castillo, Master’s Degree Student at UPRM studying Mechanical Engineering, Interned with AMS Transportation and Marketing Program
I spent most of my time this summer analyzing the heat and ventilation system of a food hub. Ultimately, the information that we find out can be used as a model for other food hubs preparing to become operational. It was great to apply some of the concepts that I am learning in school.
Jenifier Olavarría-Fullerton, PhD Candidate December 2013 at UPRM studying Applied Chemistry, Interned with AMS National Science Laboratory
The entire summer was a great experience where I learned a lot: from receiving samples to preparing them and going through analysis. The food analysis we were performing helps make sure that products purchased in the supermarket are within acceptable standards, valuable information for the companies using AMS services and for the consumers buying these products.
Susej Maldonado, Junior at University of UPRM studying Agricultural Science, Interned with the AMS Science and Technology Program Plant Variety Protection Office
During the summer, I got a chance to help make sure that new plant varieties entered into our database were distinct and I also really enjoyed meeting AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo. In addition to her current position, she has been an executive at Kraft and a Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Commerce Department, but she is still very personable. It meant a lot to see how much she cared about us interning with the agency.
Back in Puerto Rico, CETARS students are already helping cultivate the next generation of agricultural leaders. As part of the program, many of the students engage in outreach activities that encourage kids to choose agricultural degrees. We hope that they continue in their endeavors and that others will follow in their footsteps.
I am thankful for all their valuable contributions this summer and hope that they will consider positions within the agency when they finish their studies.