CASNR Researchers Awarded Two HSI Grants in 2020

Faculty in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications received funding for not one, but two grants through the Hispanic Serving Institution Grants Program in 2020. 

The HSI grants, which are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, were awarded to two separate programs led by faculty in the college to provide students with a sense of community, empowerment, opportunity and appreciation on campus. 

Texas Tech University was recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education in the fall of 2019, with over 25% of their student population being Hispanic. 

IMPACT Program 

Researchers Amy Boren-Alpizar, Ph.D., associate professor of agricultural leadership, and Erica Irlbeck, Ed.D., professor of agricultural communications, received a $1 million HSI grant to increase Hispanic degree pursuit and completion in the food, agricultural, natural resources and human sciences disciplines. Their project, called Initiating and Mobilizing a Pipeline in Agricultural Careers Training (IMPACT), is a collaborative grant with Eastern New Mexico University that will mentor 25 students in financial and nutritional areas of their life. 

Through the IMPACT program, Boren-Alpizar and Irlbeck hope to encourage students from ENMU to come to Texas Tech after graduation to pursue a graduate degree. 

Eligible students for the IMPACT Program must be first generation college attendees with little-to-no guidance navigating through college or must have needs that are equivalent, Boren-Alpizar said. Through this collaborative grant with ENMU, there are three core values that focused on belonging, mentoring and career development. Through this collaborative project, student at both Texas Tech and ENMU will become a part of an “educational pipeline” helping students and both institutions with retention and graduation rates. The program will also include activities to give students the opportunity to meet and interact with agricultural employers and learn about career options. 

The IMPACT Program will begin with their first cohort in fall 2021 and run throughout the entirety of each fall and spring semester. The program’s goal is to empower students, allow research to be conducted, partake in creative activities and transform the lives of members involved. By assisting students, Boren-Alpizar and Irlbeck hope to give students a sense of independence and confidence to further their education. 

“Students often come in and they have in mind what they want because they don’t know what else is out there,” Boren-Alpizar said. “If we can take students through this process of, ‘Look there are all of these other aspects that you can explore’ and create a sense of new opportunity. That would be really great.”  

Bridge Adventure Program

Faculty in the AEC department partnered with researchers in the Department of Natural Resources Management to develop the Bridge Adventure Program, which was also awarded an HSI grant in 2020. This $275,000 program seeks to promote diversity and inclusion in agricultural and natural resources fields through outdoor leadership experiences. 

Led by Nathan Gill, Ph.D, an assistant professor in natural resources management, the Bridge Adventure Program will include outdoor adventure experiences, mentored field research and service-learning projects.

“We want students who have a commitment to being engaged in the program, contributing within the program’s community, and are ready to go out and open their mind to adventure,” Gill said.

 AEC faculty included in the project are Lindsay Kennedy, Ph.D., assistant professor of practice in agricultural communications, Scott Burris, Ph.D., professor and chair of the AEC department, and Courtney Meyers, Ph.D., professor of agricultural communications. Carlos Villalobos, Ph.D., an associate professor in natural resources management, will also assist with the program’s research components. 

Funded through 2024, the Bridge Adventure Program will give students the opportunity to get hands-on experience through service-learning projects and field research. Lastly, an adventure-based trip will allow students to experience challenging memorable activities they would not usually get to experience. 

Through these opportunities, Gill hopes students can cultivate a sense of community in addition to appreciation for diversity among one another. 

We want students all across campus to have the opportunity to gain these experiences.

“Although there is a lot of momentum within CASNR for this project, and it’s run by CASNR faculty,” Gill said, “we hope to be known as a university-wide program, no matter what their major is. We want students across campus to have the opportunity to gain these experiences if they wish.” 

The Bridge Adventure Program will be available to students throughout the university, regardless of their major. HSI funding for the program will be used for trips, research expenses, equipment and necessities provided to students. 

Gill said he hopes student participants will develop connections through the several types of activities, which will benefit their ability enter the workforce following graduation. 

The program’s first cohort will be selected early summer in 2021 and will officially start fall 2021. Applications will be accepted through the first few weeks of August. Gill said he is looking forward to filling eight to 12 spots in the first cohort. As the program grows, two cohorts will be active within the same year, allowing between 20-25 students to participate. 

“Eventually, we hope to potentially expand to other campuses and grow the program that way as well,” Gill said. 

Visit to learn more about the program, or email for information about IMPACT.

challenging experiences
While participating in the Bridge Adventure program, students will have the opportunity to do activities they aren’t familiar with. These activities are meant to challenge students physically and mentally. (Photo by Codi Clark)