USDA awards SC State $8.7M ‘NextGen’ grant to develop students in food, agriculture and human sciences

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – South Carolina State University has received an $8.7 million “NextGen” grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to recruit, train and graduate students for careers in food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences (FANH).

Dr. LaToya Johnson

This project will develop an academy at SC State and Alabama A&M University (AAMU) to expose approximately 40 middle school students, 400 high school students, and 45-90 minority undergraduate students to pursue careers in FANH and at the USDA.

The project may help to combat an increasing shortage of professionals. The goal is to establish a direct pipeline to employment opportunities in FANH and the USDA from the two universities. If the goal is met, a minimum of 485 students will know about and/or actively pursue such careers.

Dr. LaToya Johnson, an SC State assistant professor of family and consumer sciences, is the project’s co-principal investigator alongside fellow SC State alumna Dr. Ethel Jones, chair of family and consumer science at AAMU.

“I am very honored that my project was funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA),” Johnson said. “There were 175 projects submitted, and to have one of the 33 projects selected is a very humbling experience.

“With this project, I will have the opportunity to recruit and retain students to the College of Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences (CAFCS) with the hopes that they will pursue careers in food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences in addition to the USDA,” Johnson said.

SC State, an 1890 Land-grant University and an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), established the CAFCS in 2021 to meet South Carolina’s needs in such research and employment areas.

“I congratulate Dr. Johnson and her colleagues on this monumental achievement that will improve both South Carolina and Alabama’s ability to thrive in food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences,” SC State President Alexander Conyers said. “The USDA is a crucial partner as we develop the College of Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences into the research and workforce development powerhouse we know it can be.

“This grant speaks not only to the mission on which SC State was founded in 1896, but also to the need for professionals to be educated for innovations in these modern fields of study,” Conyers said.

SC State’s five-year grant is part of the USDA’s $262.5 million investment in higher education institutions to foster the next generation of diverse agricultural professionals across the nation.

NIFA’s “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program” (NextGen) program is funded by President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to lower costs for American families, expand access to markets to producers from all backgrounds and communities, build a clean energy economy and strengthen American supply chains.

“The ‘NextGen’ grant awards reflects the progressive strategic direction the College of Agriculture and Family and Consumer Sciences has established to ensure our students engage in cutting edge technologies in preparation for our next generation of food, agriculture and human sciences professionals,” said Dr. William H. Whitaker Jr., the college’s acting dean. “We are certainly proud of our stellar faculty members Dr. LaToya Johnson and Dr. Ethel Jones for leading this critical effort paving the way for modernized curricular development and enhanced teaching, learning and research.”

Eligible institutions included 1890 Land-grant Universities, 1994 Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving Institutions, Alaska Native-serving and Native Hawaiian-serving Institutions and institutions of higher education located in the insular areas, as well as their partners.

The SC State and AAMU academy will consist of:

  • On-campus and regional recruitment programs for middle and high school students.
  • Opportunities for high school students to earn college credit in FANH-related courses.
  • A college scholarship program.
  • Professional development workshops for high school educators.
  • A middle school/parent mentorship program.
  • A summer program for high school students.
  • Certification programs for undergraduate students.

According to the SC State project summary, there is a nationwide shortage of students who are pursuing careers in these fields. Among many, factors include:

  • A misconception that FANH careers only including farming and ranching.
  • A decrease in academic programs offered in high schools, colleges, and universities.
  •  The belief that salaries are extremely low.
  • An older workforce nearing retirement.

Media Contact

Sam Watson
Director of University Relations
South Carolina State University
803-747-1223 (Cell)

About South Carolina State University

Founded in 1896 as a land grant institution with a mission of providing service to the citizens of the state, South Carolina State University has evolved from a small teachers’ college into a major University center of learning and research. Located in Orangeburg, S.C., South Carolina State offers more than 50 different fields of study on the undergraduate and graduate levels. South Carolina State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of the Council of Graduate Schools.

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Sam Watson
Director of University Relations | | 803-533-3603 (Desk) | 803-747-1223 (Cell)