Seed World

New Project Promotes Future Leaders in Food, Climate and Sustainable Agriculture


South Dakota State University (SDSU) has received a three-year, $749,977 grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), according to a release. The grant will allow the university to find innovative ways to develop the future workforce in the fields of food, agriculture, natural and human sciences (FANH) through leveraging honors education.

Co-project directors Rebecca Bott-Knutson, dean of the Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College, and Joseph Cassady, South Dakota Corn Endowed dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, will lead the charge in collaboration with land-grant and minority-serving institutions that possess FANH programs. Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University and Virginia Tech are included in the partnership.

The four lead institutions will be included in a nationwide network created to implement innovative initiatives for a Grand Challenge Scholars Institute. The funds will also promote systems thinking and career readiness that is crucial in the FANH fields.

“High-impact, collaborative, transformational learning experiences are hallmarks of honors education,” said Bott-Knutson. “Imagine every honors student has access to the top content experts and educators in the nation/world. Further imagine that they have regular access to one another, collectively cultivating a comprehensive worldview, unrestricted by geography or financial need.”

The three-year initiative — “The Justice Challenge: Engaging Students in the Future of Food, Climate and Sustainable Agriculture” — will promote exploration from participating institutions on a grand challenge theme each year that falls under USDA priority areas. Yearly themes include food justice, climate justice and sustainable agriculture.

A new group of honors students will have the opportunity to take part in the Grand Challenge Scholars Institute each year. The challenge will begin with a colloquium that introduces students to the chosen theme and each other. The students will then choose which signature experience they will participate in — field experience, design challenge or hackathon. At the end of every one-year institute, a conference will be held to showcase the work of students and to strengthen the network between students and experts in the FANH sciences.

“As a result of these interactions, honors graduates enter the workforce better prepared to address the world’s greatest challenges with compassionate systems approaches,” continued Bott-Knutson.

The project’s core mission is to develop diverse graduates that are well-prepared in the FANH disciplines that can spearhead today’s most complex challenges. Participating graduates will be geared with an innovative skillset and mindset, allowing them to thrive in the workforce.

The project predicts the participation of 500 undergraduate students from throughout the country. Additional institutions that will participate include the University of Toledo, University of Louisville, University of Montana, Virginia State University, Northern Illinois University, California Lutheran University, Binghamton University, Southern Illinois University, University of Illinois Chicago and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.