University of Vermont

RSENR USDA Multicultural Scholar Program Continues to Develop Student Leaders After 18 Years

USDA Scholar Maria Dominguez (ENSC '14), studying wildlife in Florida.
USDA Scholar Maria Dominguez (ENSC '14), studying wildlife in Florida.

What might the youngest Vermont State legislator, a Program Officer for Climate and Environment with the Institute for Sustainable Communities, a recipient of the 2012 Alaska Conservation Leadership Award from the Student Conservation Association, and 25 other Rubenstein School alumni have in common? All 28 of these alumni were USDA Multicultural Scholars.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes the rapidly changing demographics of our nation and that its next generation workforce will be multicultural. For almost 20 years, NIFA has awarded funds to various universities and colleges towards the education and preparation of multicultural students for careers in the environment and natural resource fields. Specific goals include academic preparation, experiential learning, social support, and mentoring.

Since 1995, the Rubenstein School has proudly hosted USDA Multicultural Scholars, and many have gone on to careers in the environment and graduate work at institutions such as SUNY ESF, Bard College, Tufts University, San Diego State University, and the University of Vermont. Recently graduated Scholars on our other USDA Multicultural Scholars grants are working as a GIS Specialist, an AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer for the City of Burlington, and an intern at the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. Another recently graduated Scholar, who had two successive summer internships with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, has gone on to a full-time position at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge as a Visitor Services Specialist.

Our current Scholars are active in the RSENR community and beyond. Senior Laura Kim (ENVS ’14) and sophomore Jacqueline Cardoza (ENVS ’16) currently serve in the RSENR Stewards Leadership Program, and sophomore Flore Costume (ENSC ’16) is co-chair of the RSENR Diversity Task Force.  The USDA Multicultural Scholars Grants also support Scholars to engage in exciting experiential opportunities that deepen their learning experiences:  Scholars have studied abroad in Copenhagen and Belize, taken travel study courses in Arizona and the Bahamas, and current senior Jonathan Liang (ENSC ’14) spent Summer 2013 in a sea-kayak while exploring Alaskan ecology with the Wild Rockies Field Institute.

Fourteen USDA Scholars are currently enrolled in the Rubenstein School, including four from our partnership school High School for Environmental Studies in New York, NY. A number of these students have had prior field adventures with The Nature Conservancy LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future) Program and with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

The USDA Multicultural Scholars program also provides funding that benefits the whole Rubenstein School community through co-sponsored visits from retired Deputy Director of the National Park Service, Mickey Fearn, member of the RSENR Board of Advisors; writer and activist Bill McKibben; and former Scholar and alumnus Kesha Ram (NR ’08), currently serving her second term as a Vermont State Legislator. This program has also made it possible for RSENR undergraduate and graduate students to attend events featuring other national figures such as Van Jones, environmental advocate, founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and CNN commentator, and Majora Carter, an urban revitalization strategist and founder of Sustainable South Bronx.