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ARS plans now for future scientists.

Much has already been written about U.S. agriculture in the year 2000 - how livestock might change, the role of biological control in battling pests and crop diseases, even the advent of unfamiliar but lucrative new crops on the American agricultural scene.

But here's an equally important question to consider: What will be the fate of U.S. agricultural research in the year 2000 and beyond?

We've known for some time that this country may he facing a shortage of agricultural scientists and engineers in the coming century - perhaps as many as half a million. According to the Task Force on Women, Minorities, and the Handicapped in Science and Technology, "A leaking educational and professional pipeline - from prekindergarten to Ph.D. and on through professional careers - is draining America's future."

But the potential talent is there, if we will only seek it out and nurture it. When the new century arrives, blacks and Hispanics, currently only 25 percent of all U.S. school children, will make up 47 percent of the total. By 2010, one in every three 18-year-olds will be black or Hispanic, compared to one in five in 1985.

Yet African Americans today make up only 2 percent of all employed scientists and engineers, even though they represent 12 percent of the nation's population. Only 4 percent of baccalaureate degrees in science and engineering - and only 1 percent of Ph.D's - are awarded to black students. Clearly this is a vast scientific resource that until recently has gone largely untapped.

In 1989, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began a concerted effort to change that picture through the 1890 Initiative. That's the name of a plan to encourage relationships between USDA agencies and the 1890 Schools, this nation's historically black land-grant colleges and universities.

Briefly, the history of 1890 Schools is this: In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act, which provided for the establishment of at least one land-grant institution in each state.

The legislation was flexible enough to allow for the establishment of a second land-grant institution for blacks if the states chose to do so. Mississippi did establish Alcorn State University for blacks in 1871, designating it as a landgrant school, and in Virginia, land-grant funds from the 1862 act were extended to blacks via Hampton University, a private institution.

A second Morrill Act, passed by Congress in 1890, provided additional endowment for the 1862 land-grant institutions. But it contained a provision that such funds would not be available to institutions that were practicing racial discrimination in admission. The result was the creation of many land-grant schools specifically for blacks, which came to be known as the 1890 Schools.

Agriculture and research have always been an integral part of the 1890 Schools. In fact, those institutions began under the same mandate as the 1862 schools: to provide instruction in agriculture, home economics, and mechanical industries. Additionally, research was part of the founding mission of the 1890 institutions.

In this issue of Agricultural Research, you will read how USDA - and specifically ARS - has worked hard to enhance research at today's historically black colleges and universities. Research payoffs are already being reaped, from new profit-making ideas for small farmers to advances in the war against animal diseases.

But beyond these individual victories, USDA is striving for a greater reward - harvesting the full value of our nation's scientific talents beyond the traditional circles. Investing time and money in cooperative research with the land-grant schools is a viable path to that goal.

How important is the link of the historically black schools in the educational chain? According to the National Science Foundation, of some 700 black men and women who received Ph.D.'s in science and engineering between 1986 and 1988, 29 percent earned their bachelor's degrees at black colleges.

And in some fields, the numbers are even higher: 42 percent of black Ph.D. biologists earned their bachelor's degrees at black schools. Our historically black colleges and universities are laying the foundation for many of the scientists and engineers that we will need for the coming years.

We know that not every student at an 1890 institution is going to pursue a career in agriculture or science. But enrollment is rising at the historically black colleges and universities - up 15 percent from 1986 to 1990, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Outreach programs such as BAYOU at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in which ARS is a major participant, enable us to give those students a glimpse of the possibilities of a career in agricultural research by bringing them into federal laboratories to work for the summer. And the student interest is certainly there: We have nearly 10 applications for every position available.

Other avenues of USDA cooperation, such as establishing a liaison on every 1890 campus and arranging for the schools to use equipment USDA no longer needs, give more than just a helping hand to these schools.

They represent a downpayment - and a sound investment - in the scientific leaders this country will need to maintain its world-class science and technical excellence in the 21st century.
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Title Annotation:Agricultural Research Service
Author:Tallent, William H.
Publication:Agricultural Research
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:852
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