Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Sep 1, 2016
Project End Date
Aug 31, 2018
Grant Year
Project Director
Fox, J.
Recipient Organization
6300 OCEAN DR STE NRC 2011
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
At present the food, agricultural and natural sciences labor force is underrepresented with respect to Hispanic Americans. The primary purpose of this four-year interdisciplinary multi-HSI project is to increase the number of south Texas students graduating from 2-yr Associate-granting institutions (DMC, TSTC) transitioning to 4-yr Bachelor of Science and Masters degrees (TAMUCC, TAMUK, UTRGV) in fields related to the agricultural, plant and biological sciences. Faculty and staff at partner institutions will provide undergraduate and graduate training and education in the use of UAS technology for precision farming in agriculture. Targeted coursework will be created to include two permanent on-line introductory courses in UAV technology and ethics and one blended (on-line/hands-on) course in UAS applications. Training will include internships and assistance in research projects aligned with UAS as a tool for crop/soil management, plant and natural resource sciences. Products will produce 28 Bachelor of Science and 11 Masters of Science graduates working in food, agriculture, and natural resources-related fields. This project will also affect 48 students from two-year academic institutions. Educational needs areas addressed by this project include: (1) curricula design in terms of development of new courses of study and (5) student experiential learning. The major project outcome will be production of approximately 40 Hispanic Americans with additional experience and education in food, agricultural, and natural sciences better prepared to engage in careers with the USDA or other federal agencies as well as the private sector. This will ultimately increase diversity of the national workforce and position more Hispanic Americans in stable jobs throughout the U.S.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
Agriculture is a major driver of the South Texas economy as evidenced by strong USDA (NRCS, ARS, APHIS) and state agency presence (Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension). This program meets NIFA's Educational Areas (1) Curricula Design and (5) Student Experiential Learning through agriculture- and bioscience-based academic and research programs offered by regional academic institutions providing students with clear pathways to pursue academic, research and career objectives in agriculture. South Texas is decidedly Hispanic (60% in Corpus Christi and 91% in McAllen-Edinburgh-Mission MSAs[2]). Most of this area is well-below the national poverty level[3]. The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), an HSI partner institutions in this proposal, is ranked third in the nation in awarding academic degrees to Hispanics[4]. The other HSI partners in this program Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC), Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK), Texas State Technical College-Harlingen (TSTC), and Del Mar College (DMC) have undergraduate Hispanic enrollments ranging from 45-89%, providing substantial opportunities for advancing UAS technologies in plant science/precision farming and research skills to underrepresented and economically-disadvantaged Hispanics aspiring to achieve bachelor of science (B.S.) and Masters of Science (M.S.) degrees. Opportunities in experiential training extend from the USDA, Texas A&M AgriLife, TAMUK and TAMUCC, all having strong regional presence. TAMUCC, TAMUK and UTRGV are members of the NSF-funded Research Coordination Network (RCN) - Climate, Energy, Environment and Engagement in Semiarid Regions (CE3SAR; NSF #140196). These synergistic resources and opportunities will ensure successful implementation and achievement of project goals and objectives to increase the coursework and research skills of underrepresented students. Funding of this project will provide the economic opportunity to socio-economically challenged students to matriculate in a timely manner, graduating to advanced degrees or entering into careers related to food, plant science, agricultural, and natural resources. This proposal is developed as a "Standard Project" involving five HSI academic institutions serving south Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley (Figure 1). TAMUCC is ranked in the top 20 HSIs in Texas. TAMUCC's Momentum 2020 Strategic Plan ( designates one of its primary goals is to attract a diverse and highly qualified student body consistent with its mission as a HSI and one that serves students representing the changing demographics of the State of Texas. It is TAMUCC's intention to achieve and maintain a diverse campus community, preparing students for living and working in an increasingly diverse and global society. Its intention to achieve "Research Intensive" status is entirely consistent with the goals of the HSI Education Grants Program. As an HSI, UTRGV is currently ranked third and fourth nationally in terms of B.S. and M.S. degrees awarded to Hispanics. TAMUK is a four-year teaching and research HSI offering B.S., M.S. and PhD degrees in agriculture-related disciplines. Two participating HSI regional community colleges offering two-year Associate degrees include DMC and TSTC located in Corpus Christi, TX, and Harlingen, TX, respectively.
Project Methods
The PD and Co-PDs at TAMUCC, TAMUK, UTRG, DMC, TSTC and Texas A&M AgriLife as well as faculty mentors, have previous experience in providing "hands-on" research activities that form the core of each internship experience. PD Dr. Joe Fox (TAMUCC) will work directly with the institutional Co-PD's: Dr. Shad Nelson (TAMUK), Dr. Alexis Racelis (UTRGV), Dr. Jonda Halcomb (DMC), Mr. Norberto Mendoza (TSTC), and Dr. Juan Landivar (Texas A&M AgriLife Research). These individuals and other Senior Personnel will recruit and mentor summer internship students. UAS/agriculture-related coursework will be offered by TAMUCC and taught by Drs. David Bridges and Michael Starek (UAS Principles), Dr. Melanie Neely-Willis (UAS Ethics) and Dr. Jinha Jung (UAS Applications to Agriculture). The PD and Co-PDs will be responsible for selecting students for acceptance into summer internships at their respective institutions and tracking students enrolled in the program. Students will be required to sign a contract of commitment to the program to ensure retention and allow the program to best fit student educational needs. Each student will be assigned a faculty or staff (in the case of Texas A&M AgriLife) mentor. Overall management of internships and TAMUCC outreach/recruitment efforts will be managed by the Office of Research, Commercialization and Outreach at TAMUCC (Dr. Joe Miller).3. Timetable: Years 1-4: Prior to initiation of Year 1 activities, students from DMC and TSTC will be actively recruited to the program via a dedicated project web site ( with details regarding application to the program and registration for UAS-related coursework. In Year 1, undergraduate and graduate students will attend a pre-application UAS Agriculture Recruitment Day each year at TAMUCC or UTRGV (depending upon their personal location) prior to initiation of the internship program. Once selected as a participant in the internship portion of the project (Objective 1), students will first undertake two days of internship orientation at TAMUCC/Texas A&M AgriLife in Corpus Christi or at UTRGV/Texas A&M AgriLife in the RGV. UAS classwork (Objective 2) will commence in Fall of Year 2. Project coursework will be offered by TAMUCC and available according to the following schedule: Introduction to UAS (Years 2-4, Fall and Spring Semesters, on-line), UAS Ethics (Years 2-4 Spring Semesters, on-line), UAS Applications in Agriculture (Years 2-4, Maymester, on-line lecture/field based). Students at 2-year institutions will engage in program activities (e.g., field days/trips, intereactive sessions) designed to provide a foundation for continuation to experiential mentored research (Obj. 1) following completion of their Associate Degree and transition TAMUCC, TAMUK, or UTRGV. DMC is planning to develop a degree program in UAS and this will certainly serve as a pathway to TAMUCC. In Year 1, TAMUCC, TAMUK and UTRGV students will be recruited for mentored undergraduate and graduate internship experiences (Obj. 1). These cohorts will merge as the grant continues in Years 2-4. Recruitment into the program will continue through Years 2-4. Students finishing their degrees may then be supported by the grant as they pursue their M.S. studies, either at TAMUCC, TAMUK or UTRGV.

Progress 09/01/16 to 08/31/17

Target Audience:The program prepares underrepresented future graduates from five South Texas Hispanic Serving Institutes (HSI) for careers related to agriculture (plant science) and natural resource systems. The economic impact of agriculture in Texas is $100 billion annually and 14% of working Texans are in agriculture-related jobs[1], but few Latinos choose careers in agriculture. South Texas is a geographically, socio-economically and educationally isolated region. Engaging underrepresented students with emerging innovative UAS technologies that impact precision agriculture expands their knowledge of career options while encouraging them to pursue advanced degrees in agricultural-related degrees. It further enhances academic and research prominence among Hispanics and diversifies the human capital available in South Texas for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to select its future workforce. Changes/Problems:Changes In the course of the first year of this project we have made two major changes: 1) TAMUCC has added Dr. Xavier Gonzalez as a Co-PI to the project; and 2) Dr. Randy Stanko has replaced Dr. Shad Nelson as project Co-PI at TAMUK. There have been no other changes. Problems/Challenges The following problems/challenges have been encountered: 1) In order to share common coursework across the three 4-yr institution campuses (TAMUCC, TAMUK, UTRGV), it was necessary to develop an MOU describing the method allowing this interaction. This involved agreement at the provost level and involvement of representatives of the Texas A&M System. This was eventually achieved, requiring formation of a "council" populated with representatives from each of the major institutions. The purpose of this council is to review the MOU as policy whenever questions might arise regarding its implementation. This has not been a major delay in terms of initiating enrollment in coursework, as all proposed coursework wasproposed to be activated in Year 2. It is now a matter of promoting these courses at participant institutions (TAMUK and UTRGV). 2) Another major challenge has been achieving approval of our IRB proposal involving conducting student surveys and publication of "research" resultsderived from surveys. During the process of applying for IRB approval, the Compliance Officer at TAMUCC resigned and was replaced by another individual, who, at this time, is in the process of retiring. At this point, the proposal is awaiting approval and we foresee nofurther delays. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?1) During the fiscal year 2016-2017, two ag-related field days were held in which graduate and undergraduate students participated: a) the Vegetable Field Day at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center (Weslaco, Texas) and the 1st Annual UAS in Ag Field Day at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center in Robstown, Texas. A total of 20 students attended the former activity and 60, the latter.Students attending this activityparticipated in scientific and discipline-related presentations,followed by hands-on field-based UAS activities. Participants attending these field days were derived from Project partner institutions as well as Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. TheUAS in Ag Field Day was attended by USDA and discussions were held to expand USDA involvement in the program. The field day in Weslaco was attended by several private sector agriculture representatives with whom students were able to interact. In an anonymous survey regarding the UAS in Ag Field Day, 94% of participants learned more about UAS in Ag than prior to attending and 86% were completely satisfied with the program (14% were mostly satisfied). 2) Project funding allowed students from TAMUCC, TAMUK, and UTRGV to attend the annual USDA-HSI Project Directors' Meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. At this meeting, one of the TAMUCC graduate students, Laura Carbajal, won topgraduate poster. 3) Training: In terms of training,there are currently 15 students involved in either USDA-HSI-funded graduate research stipends orsummer internships. Students are engaged in the following projects, which all involve in-depth training at a variety of facilities: Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Centers (Robstown and Weslaco, TX), TAMUCC Lone Star UAS Center for Excellence (Corpus Christi, TX), the Citrus Center (TAMUK), USDA-ARS, and UTRGV. 4) One student, Yeoshua Cohen, presented at the UAS in Ag Field Day to other students, research scientists, and instructors, methodology regarding development of UAS imagery and software as part of a hands-on field experience. This student is an undergraduate and he served as an example to other 4- and 2-yr students as well as graduate students what he was learning and what could be done with UAS to improve sorghum yields. Other students participated in the field day practical exercises as part of their professional development. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Dissemination of results: 1) UAS coursework: our coursework is advertised on our web site as well as on electronic class schedules at TAMUCC and partner institutions. The scheduling of coursework is an academic issue for which academic departments are largely responsible (time of course, number of class sections, maximum enrollment). Partner institutions have signed an MOU with TAMUCC to offer these courses and we anticipate full enrollment. 2) Field days are at present being evaluated (last one was June 13) and the results will be posted on the project web site. 3) We intend to post our various undergraduate and graduate research efforts on the project web site as well as TAMUCC and partner institution web sites via marketing and communication offices.In order to do thiswe typically go through our Campus Outreach Program for posting to the various web sites.For this coming year, in addition to the already functioning web site, we will be developing a list serve to inform partner institutions, students, collaborators, etc. ofarea, regional, and national-level activities related to UAS in Ag. 4) As results are generatedfrom student efforts (undergrad and gradlevel) we will seek to have these synthesized into articles for distribution to relevant journals (e.g., NACTA, JAE, Hispanic Engineer Magazine, etc.). What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?For the next reporting period, we will: 1) Be able to offer all courses to students at the three 4-yr institutions. We have completed an MOU among the academic partners and all courses will be in place. As mentioned, only students at TAMUCCwere able to take two out of the three courses. This was due to complications associated with establishing formal academic relationships among the three 4-yr partner institutions, culminating in an MOU that was finalized in May. Next year, all three courses will be on-line and will be available to all students at the 4-yr institutions atgraduate and undergraduate levels. 2) Continue to providegraduateand undergraduate students at 4-yr institutions with research stipends and internships. We will start the application processin the next couple of weeks for graduate stipends and in February for undergraduate internships. This coming year we will expand internship programs to USDA opportunities (e.g., ARS, APHIS, etc.) through the help of Ruby de la Garza (USDA-HSI National Office for Advocacy and Outreach). 3) We will continue to offer two large-scale field day activities in Year 2:in Weslaco, TX(Fall) and in Robstown, TX (Spring) to correspond with Fall and Spring academic semester schedules. 4) We will fund students, when possible, to attend UAS and Ag-related workshops or conferencesat thestate, regional, and national level. If funding allows, we would like to hold a field day in Corpus Christi focusing only on USDA-Ag-UAS job opportunities and will invite speakers/representatives from major employment-oriented industries. 5) As mentioned in the previous section, we will look to advertise results of internships and graduate research as well as field day activities to a broader audience (broader than "on-campus").

What was accomplished under these goals? Objectives There are two major objectives to this project: Objective 1: To provide underrepresented Hispanic students with foundational and applied coursework integrating UAS technology with agriculture and the biological sciences. Existing GIS-based (and planned UAS) coursework at DMC and TSTC will be used to introduce students to UAS and its use in agriculture and serve as a pathway into 4-yr institutions. Students at the Bachelors and Masters levels will take courses at TAMUCC in UAS principles (foundational, on-line), ethics (on-line) and UAS applications to agriculture (hands-on/field based, hybrid).Objective 2: To provide summer undergraduate internship experiences to underrepresented Hispanic students at the Associate and Bachelors levels and research stipends at the Masters degree level to increasestudent experience with respect to application of UAS technology to various ag applications (e.g., plant science/precision farming). Collaboration among partner academic institutions will recruit students for summer research internships at TAMUCC, TAMUK, UTRGV, Texas A&M AgriLife, USDA (ARS) and private sector facilities, facilitating opportunities to explore various research areas available to them in agricultural- and natural resources-related sciences at higher academic levels. Mentored research experiences will be provided over the project period to at least 48 Associate, 28 Bachelor, and 11 Masters students from the underserved Hispanic population in south Texas. Projected Outcomes As stated in the project proposal, the anticipated outcomes of this project are to support at least 28 Bachelor of Science and 11 Masters of Science students toward completion of their degree programs. Experiential activities in UAS/Ag will also be extended to approximately 48 students in two-year academic institutions. It is anticipated that a high percentage of these students will matriculate and be prepared for working in food, agriculture, and natural resources-related fields. This project will include formal and "hands-on" educational and field (research)-based development of underrepresented Hispanic students towards their career objectives in agriculture or the biological sciences, a key function of the program. It is anticipated that knowledge and familiarity with bench and field-based UAS concepts and applications towards plant science/precision farming will be in high demand by the USDA, research institutions and the private sector in the near future. Because UAS applications will be highly diverse, students having completed this educational training will contribute strongly to the workforce. This project will also strongly enhance student opportunities for public speaking, technical writing, and professional growth and development through attendance and participation at research symposiums and/or regional/national professional conferences.The completion of this project will lead to the following: 1) a continued internship program with the USDA-ARS, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, and/or private sector companies with collaboration among five HSI institutions; 2) permanent coursework on UAS in agriculture for south Texas students and beyond; 3) continued recruitment and retention of underrepresented Hispanic students in agriculture/biological sciences; 4) a competitive skill set for these students seeking jobs with the USDA, research institutions, the private sector or those intending to seek higher academic degrees (e.g., PhD); and 5) improvement and nurturing of faculty-professional/student relationships and professional development via collaboration in summer internships, attendance of symposia/conferences and generation of research publications. Objective 1: Curricula and Coursework We have developed curricula to offer three UAS-oriented courses to undergraduate and graduate students at TAMUCC, TAMUK, and UTRGV. These courses are Introduction to UAV, UAV Ethics, and UAS Applications to Precision Farming. In order to offer these courses to students, an MOU was developed between TAMUCC, UTRGV, and TAMUK. The MOU addresses issues such as how to register for the courses, assigning credit on transcripts, notification of students, etc. The MOU requires development of a policy oversight committee with one representative at each academic institution. In order to advertise the courses, we have started a campaign that reaches out to partner institutions and their students. It is likely these courses will be very popular. Pathway between 2- and 4-year institutions: At present, we have 6 undergraduate students from Del MarCollege (DMC; 2-yr institution) and6 students from Texas State Technical College (TSTC; 2-year institution)receiving funding as part of the Program. We have also made good in-roads into creating a pathway from DMC to TAMUCC. It is our understanding that two of the students from DMC will be registering at TAMUCC to continue their education in the UAS/Geospatial area. At present, DMC has developed a UAS Program with five dedicated classes oriented towards UAS (but not necessarily focusing on Ag). This creates a great opportunity for the students there to transition into a 4-yr program at TAMUCC. Objective 2: Research/Experiential TrainingAccomplishments In the first year of this project, we currently have a total of 3 graduate students registered in the Program, placed with faculty researchers and receiving annual stipends. Two of these students are at TAMUCC and1 is atUTRGV. We haveone additional graduate students starting at TAMUK in Year 2 (not counting new students from TAMUCC and UTRGV who will enter the Program).We also have a total of 12 undergraduate students from 4-yr institutions enrolled in the Program in summer internships at Texas A&M AgriLife Research (7), Lone Star UAS Center forExcellence/TAMUCC (2), TAMUK-Citrus Center (1), USDA-ARS (1),and UTRGV (2). Their research experiences are diverse and include topics such as high throughput phenotyping using UAS, crop management, rangeland management, and development of UAS technology. We also have provided experiential learning activities related to UAS/Ag to 47 undergraduate students at 2-yr institutions (40 from Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, TX, and 7 from Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, TX). There are12 students from 2-yr institutions receiving various stipends to engage in internships and/or other Ag-related experiential activities. Students and mentors at all five partner institutions in the Program attended two UAS/Ag oriented field days this first fiscal year. The first was the Vegetable Field Day that took place at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Weslaco, Texas. This event wasattended by some 120 participants from academia, various ag-related agencies, and the private sector. Participantsattended presentationsby AgriLifehorticulturists and economists and were involved in practical hands-on demonstrations of UAS in Ag. Approximately 20 students attended this activity.On June 13th, our Program held its"1st UAS in Ag Field Day" at Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center in Robstown, Texas. This event was attended byapproximately 60 students frompartner institutions and involved informativeand scientific presentations on the basics of UAs, precision farming, and high-throughput phenotyping by scientists actively pursuing research in the disciplines. Included in the morning's activities was a poster session during lunch. This was followedby a full afternoon of hands-on, comprehensivefield-based activities focusing on use of UAS in precision farming. Of theparticipants, 94% left with a better appreciation and understanding of UAS in precision farming and 86% registered their complete satisfaction with the day's program.


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