A University of Nebraska–Lincoln research team has been awarded a $742,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish the Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates program.
The five-year “Crop-to-Food Innovation” program will give students 10-week summer research experiences and scientific communication and leadership training. The project will create opportunities for students to work with scientists who develop new crop traits and apply innovative bioprocessing and formulation technologies to evaluate and develop new food and feed applications.
The project also aims to increase participation of underrepresented students in science- and agriculture-related careers. This will be achieved through a recruitment focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, particularly land-grant universities that share Nebraska’s agricultural research, extension and teaching mission.
The project is a collaboration among Nebraska’s Center for Plant Science Innovation, Nebraska Food for Health Center, Food Innovation Center and Industrial Agricultural Products Center, which together drive cross-disciplinary, cutting-edge research. The project is led by principal investigator Edgar Cahoon, George Holmes professor of biochemistry and director of the Center for Plant Innovation, and co-principal investigators Amanda Ramer-Tait, Maxcy Professor of agriculture and natural resources, and Paul Velander, assistant professor of biochemistry and Nebraska Extension specialist. The team includes 13 other faculty members from the Departments of Biochemistry, Agronomy and Horticulture, Food Science and Technology, and Biological Systems Engineering. These faculty will mentor undergraduate students from across the United States in biological sciences, chemistry, food science, engineering and related majors over the next five summers.
Student research projects will involve collaborations among participating labs across product development pipelines, from field to market, which deliver new foods and feeds to consumers and farmers. The program will emphasize teamwork as the basis for creating innovations with real-world impact and will include formal training in scientific leadership and communication, and biotechnology lab skills. Students who complete the program are expected to have a “big picture” view of food science and will be better prepared for careers and graduate education in agricultural STEM disciplines.
Cahoon sees the Crop-to Food Innovation program as “a great opportunity to impact the lives and careers of students and to promote participation of a greater diversity of people and ideas that are needed to solve global challenges.”
The grant is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture Food Research Initiative and the Workforce Development Program.