UGA colleges announce South Georgia multi-institutional partnership

By Alec Lee

The University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine (UGA CVM) in partnership with five South Georgia universities and colleges, was recently awarded a $150,000 USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Higher Education Challenge Grant. This grant will fund critical educational support for South Georgian students seeking baccalaureate or associate degrees in pre-veterinary medicine, food safety, agriculture, biological, animal, and human sciences. This multi-institutional partnership between the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, Fort Valley State University, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Valdosta State University is the first of its kind in South Georgia.

Per capita, South Georgia is home to some of the poorest counties in the state. It is no secret that the cost of post-secondary education can be a huge barrier as students plan their futures, and without funding, many of these students will graduate high school with little experience in laboratory sciences.

Over its three-year lifetime, the grant will support a series of workshops designed to educate students on career options and expose them to the skillsets necessary for these careers with a special emphasis on laboratory sciences. 300 students will be able to attend these workshops over the life of the grant. The grant will also fund 26 eight-week student internships at partner institutions. Student interns will have hands-on learning experiences with various diagnostic platforms in the Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory (TVDIL), which is part of the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, giving them direct access to board-certified microbiologists, pathologists, and other experts and agricultural leadership.

Through this program, the grant team hopes to aid in the diversification of the field and inspire students from underrepresented rural communities to pursue advanced graduate studies in the sciences. The program will also further strengthen collaborations between the five participating institutions—which could lead to more partnerships in the future.

“This project is the first of its kind,” explains TVDIL director Hemant Naikare and principal investigator of the grant team, “As soon as we are able, we are excited to open our doors to these students, and it is my sincerest hope that we can make a difference as they begin to plan their futures.” The team hopes to document their successes during the grant period for use as an “exploratory academy” model that can be used in rural communities around the United States.

Naikare also acknowledges the UGA Office of Institutional Diversity’s New Approaches grant awarded 2018 to 2021 that enabled his laboratory to initiate student engagement activities in rural South Georgia communities.

In the coming years, the team also hopes to develop new laboratory operations and management certificate and degree programs that will provide further career opportunities.

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