Increasing participation of women, underrepresented students in agriculture

Increasing participation of women, underrepresented students in agriculture

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high school students learning about careers in ag
Cultivate ACCESS is a new program designed to increase the participation of rural women and other underrepresented students in agriculture

Many high school students want a career that enables them to help others so they focus on the "helping professions" such as nursing or social work. They may not realize that careers in agriculture and science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) can help people, too.

The team coordinating a new University of Nebraska– Lincoln program — Cultivate ACCESS: Agriculture Career Communities to Empower Students in STEM — wants to change that. The program's long-term goal is to increase participation of rural Nebraska women and other underrepresented students in STEM-related agricultural college majors and careers.

Why Cultivate ACCESS is important:

  • A predicted 35 percent shortage of employees with the education and experience to fill food, agriculture and natural resources jobs in the next decade.
  • The underrepresented cultural and ethnic minorities include Hispanics, a population expected to double in Nebraska by 2050.

Reasons vary as to why more students do not consider careers in agriculture, said Jenny Keshwani, the program's director and Biological Systems Engineering assistant professor. One is that students may not see anyone who looks like them in an agricultural career field. Another is that students may stereotype agriculture as limited to growing corn and cows.

Through online mentoring, Cultivate ACCESS highlights the broad range of STEM careers in agriculture and includes women and minority role models.

The program also includes employability skills such as leadership and teamwork, said Sydney Everhart, Plant Pathology assistant professor.

The program's primary components include

  • Scholars: High school sophomores and juniors interested in learning more about STEM careers, particularly women and cultural and ethnic minorities.
  • Ambassadors: Nebraska undergraduates majoring in agriculture STEM fields. They provide peer-to-peer mentoring.
  • Mentors: Career professionals who can relate to the Scholars because of similarities in experience or background and who have practical STEM experience in their careers.

The Scholars are not necessarily the students with the highest grade point average, said Deepak Keshwani, associate professor in Biological Systems Engineering.

We're not thinking about grades. We're thinking about potential. Deepak Keshwani

In addition to Jenny and Deepak Keshwani and Everhart, the team includes Lindsay Hastings, director, Nebraska Human Resources Institute; Matt Kreifels, director, agricultural education, Nebraska Department of Education; Jamie Loizzo, assistant professor, Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication; Julie Obermeyer, director, career development and corporate relations, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources; and Leah Sandall, online and distance education coordinator, Agronomy and Horticulture.

For more information, contact any of the team members or visit the website,

This three-year project is supported by the Women and Minorities in STEM Fields Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2017- 38503-27167.