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USDA selects two faculty members as 2021 E. Kika De La Garza Fellows

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has selected two Texas A&M University-Kingsville faculty members as 2021 E. Kika De La Garza Fellows. They are among the 25 faculty and staff chosen from Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) across the nation.


Dr. Ammar Bhandari, Assistant Professor of Soil Health, Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management was selected as a Science Fellow.


“It means a lot for me to get selected for this program,” Bhandari said. “It provided a platform to network with all the educators and scientists from HSI institutions. It also helped me explore more grant funding opportunities, understand USDA and different agencies, and prepare our students as the next generation of agricultural scientists with the required skillsets that they are looking for.”


Dr. Roberto Vela, Professor and Chair of the Language and Literature Department, was selected as an Education Fellow.


“Selection into the program represents an important step within my discipline since, as a faculty in the Humanities focused on Hispanic Cultural Studies, I represent a field of study that is seldom seen in collaboration with the STEM fields,” Vela said. “Beyond the goal of bringing to our students a new vision of what their future may hold in the civic service, I believe that this is one important step towards crystallizing a deeper dialogue between diverse disciplines.”


Vela said the recent collaboration efforts between the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences are moving forward with faculty from English, Spanish, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Agricultural Mechanics, and Soil Sciences, amongst other disciplines.


“I extend my gratitude to Dr. Shad Nelson, Dr. Dolores Guerrero and Dr. Allen Rasmussen for supporting our efforts, and congratulate all my co-fellows, especially Dr. Ammar Bhandari,” Vela said.

The summer fellowship program offers experiences in policymaking and research through direct interaction with every USDA agency, a news release states. 


“These fellowships have multiple benefits for minority-serving higher education institutions,” said Lisa Ramirez, director of USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. “The fellows get valuable professional development, they meet federal staff for long-term collaboration opportunities, and then they share what they learned with students and colleagues at their home institutions.”


The fellowships, awarded annually since 1998, recognize highly accomplished staff and faculty at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, the news release states. Fellows are selected based on the compatibility of their interests with USDA mission areas, as well as the value their experiences will add to their institutions’ educational capacities.


About the USDA and E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship Program

Hispanic-Serving Institutions are accredited and degree-granting institutions of higher education with a full-time Hispanic student enrollment of 25 percent or more. The E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship Program is an important platform for partnership between USDA and Hispanic-Serving Institutions to build awareness of USDA services, resources, and employment opportunities within the Department and the agricultural sector in general.


USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit

Category: Arts/Sciences , General Univ , Ag/Env & Wildlife Sci

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