Although almost a quarter of Oregon’s high school graduates were Latinx in 2020 (originating from Mexico, Central and South America, and Hispanic-culture Caribbean), only around 9% of students graduating from OSU with a bachelor’s degree were Latinx in the same year. Similar statistics hold for Black, Native American, and other non-Caucasian groups in Oregon. Kate Field, Microbiology professor and BioResource Research director, has been working to remedy these long-standing imbalances for the last decade. During that time, Field and her team members have been awarded six different USDA-NIFA Multicultural Scholars Program (MSP) grants.

MSP grants provide generous (almost full tuition) scholarships to undergraduates from groups that are underrepresented in the food, agriculture, natural resource, and human sciences. Each grant comes with 20 years of scholarship support, which can be distributed among freshmen and upper-division students over 5 years. The grants also provide cost-of-education funds, and a chance to apply for additional funding for experiential learning.

The first five MSP grants each supported 6 or more MSP Scholars through their graduation, and an additional 4 to 6 upper-division peer mentors with smaller scholarships. The creation of paid peer mentors contributed significantly to the programs’ success. All MSP scholars participate in experiential learning, service learning, career development, and leadership training. Most present at conferences and have an international experience. To accomplish all this, team members have partnered with expert OSU and national programs, such as OSU SMILE, Educational Opportunities Program (EOP), College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), Northwest Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in STEM (LSAMP), OSU MANRRS, TRIO, OMLI (Oregon Migrant Leadership Initiative), SACNAS, STEM Leaders, and others. These programs help with recruitment, student academic and social support, and retention.

Field and Wanda Crannell, instructor and advisor in the BioResource Research undergraduate major, have formed the backbone of the MSP teams, which otherwise have changed from year to year. Amas Aduviri, director of OSU-CAMP and OMLI, is PI of the newest grant, which will begin in 2021, and Field, Crannell, and OSU Assistant Vice Provost Daniel Lopez-Cevallos are Co-PIs. According to Field, “This grant is different from our previous MSP grants, because it targets Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker (MSF) students, who are some of the most marginalized students in the US. We have supported many other MSF students over the years, but the new cohort will be 100% from that group.”

Students in the first four MSP programs achieved a very high 6-year graduation rate (88% in a STEM major, and 96% overall), and many have gone on to graduate and professional programs. The MSP team received the College of Agricultural Sciences Diversity Achievement Award in 2020 for their work. In 2019, they received the University Vice-Provost Award for Excellence for Outreach and Engagement for leading a student service-learning trip to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Field reports that the decision to apply for the newest MSP grant was made in June 2020, when the team members were feeling stunned by the deaths of George Floyd and others, shut in by the pandemic, and looking for ways to help. They completed and submitted their proposal in less than three weeks. They are incredibly excited that it was awarded, and a new cohort of MSP students will be entering OSU next fall as a result.