CORVALLIS - With one term completed and another under way, professors in Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences say they feel good about a program designed to bring ethnic minorities into fields where they are under-represented and are expanding the program.
"The wonderful thing, I'd say, is that we've found that there are students of color who do have strong interests in studying fisheries and wildlife and food science," said Judith Li, a professor in OSU's fisheries and wildlife department.
"The kids in our program came from big high schools, mostly," added Li, "and they did very well in high school. They had options (in where they went to college)."
The OSU College of Agricultural Sciences initiated its new LEEAD program last fall. The acronym stands for Leadership Experiences and Education in Agriculture and Diversity. The program brought six Oregon high school graduates to the campus, three to major in food science and technology and three to major in fisheries and wildlife.
In addition to taking regular classes, the students are exposed to intensive networking and mentoring as members of what's called the LEEAD scholars team. They meet regularly with the program's faculty advisers. They also meet with each other, taking a one-credit seminar each term as a team.
During fall term, OSU's LEEAD scholars team studied the contributions to society of Norbert Rillieux, the son of an African American slave and a white plantation owner. In the 1830s Rillieux revolutionized the sugar refining process, inventing an evaporation system that eventually replaced grueling hand labor.
The same technology - multiple effect evaporators - is used today in many parts of the world, including at the Tillamook County Creamery Association cheese plant on the Oregon coast.
The students have developed a multimedia computer presentation about Rillieux that will be presented in June in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists. Coincidentally, New Orleans is where Rillieux made his discovery.
This winter, in addition to their other classes, LEEAD scholars are studying communication skills with Jennifer Waggoner, student relations coordinator for the College of Agricultural Sciences.
During the spring term the students will work on a fisheries and wildlife project, including doing field work at the W.L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis.
"It's working out really well. You come into college and you already have a support group," said Mona Derby, a 1995 graduate of Rainier High School, who is studying fisheries and wildlife. "Just recently I went back to my high school and talked to the kids there about the program."
There are practical reasons for the program.
"Demographics," said Li, the OSU fisheries professor. "A lot of people of color are interested in fish and wildlife issues, but we need people from diverse cultures contributing to the work on those issues."
"In the food industry there is a need for professionals who understand and represent the views of the U.S. population as a whole," pointed out OSU food science professor J. Antonio Torres. "Our industry needs a diverse work force to compete both in national and international markets."
A $50,000 grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, and matching OSU funds, launched the LEEAD program. The OSU College of Agricultural Sciences now is searching for minority students to apply for LEEAD scholarships for 1996, when the program will expand to fields such as animal sciences, horticulture, crop and soil sciences, and agricultural and resource economics.
The 1996 LEEAD scholars will be eligible for four-year, $10,000 scholarships ($2,500 a year), said Torres. The 1995 LEEAD scholars have volunteered to be mentors for next year's scholars, he said.
According to Torres, applications should be postmarked by March 15, 1996. Students and parents who want more information about the program can call Torres at 1-800-823-2357.
Coordinating the program, along with Li and Torres, is Ataa Akyeampong, instructional services coordinator for OSU's Educational Opportunities Program.