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Agriculture students earn full scholarships from a national program

Published: 09/25/14 8:57AM
By: bradleyc

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Karla Martin, (bottom far right) the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 1890 liaison, poses with FVSU 1890 National Scholars Program recipients.  Top row from (L-R) - Courtney Lester, Xavier Murphy Bottom Row (L-R) Sadiyyah Muhammad, Bernard Taylor, Karla Martin. *Gre’Nisha Jones was not available for photograp during the time of publishing.

The rising costs of college tuition and associated fees leave many students competing for scholarship funds to pay for higher education. Fortunately, five Fort Valley State University students have beaten the odds by earning a full scholarship and employment opportunity.

Unlike many of their peers, FVSU sophomores Gre'Nisha Jones, Courtney Lester, Sadiyyah Muhammad, Xavier Murphy and senior, Bernard Taylor can leave college debt free because of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) 1890 National Scholars Program.

The USDA/1890 National Scholars Program is a partnership between the USDA and 1890 land-grant universities. The purpose of the scholarship is to increase minorities studying agriculture, food science and natural resource sciences.

Each 1890 National Scholar receives paid room and board, tuition, school fees, books and a laptop computer and printer if needed. In addition to the debt-free education, scholars also participate in summer internships with their USDA sponsoring agency. After graduation, scholars are eligible to apply for full-time middle management positions with the USDA.

Xavier Murphy, a sophomore from Lumpkin applied for the USDA program in high school but he was not accepted that year. Still determined, he applied again after his freshman year at FVSU and got in. "I was at a loss for words," Murphy commented expressing his excitement about acceptance into the program. "This program removes a huge financial burden," he added.

Murphy who will have his first internship experience next summer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) said, he looks forward to helping farmers, traveling and meeting new people.

Gre'Nisha Jones, sophomore plant science-biotechnology major, was accepted into the program at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester. "I was ecstatic; I was jumping off the wall. Oh my gosh, the pressure is lifted off my shoulders. I know this is going to help me out so much," Jones said.

Fellow scholar Courtney Lester from Macon County said he learned about the 1890 National Scholars Program in high school through his National FFA Organization advisor, also known as the Future Farmers of America. He applied and received the scholarship beginning fall 2013. This past summer, he traveled to Montana and interned with the Montana NRCS. During his internship, he shadowed a soil conservationist and met with landowners to help develop conservation plans which include processes such as irrigation.

"I realized this is what I really want to do," Lester said. After his experience, Lester changed his major from agricultural engineering to plant science.

In addition to work experience, Lester said he had a chance to enjoy the scenery of the Western United States. "I had a chance to visit Yellowstone National Park and I got a chance to see the geyers," Lester said. The 19-year-old mentioned that this was his first time visiting the Western region.

Sadiyyah Muhammad who is studying agriculture economics is another recipient of the USDA/1890 scholarship. The Los Angeles native, whose family now resides in Duluth, said she enjoys learning about the supply and demand concept in the classroom and looks forward to using her skills to benefit the economy locally and globally.

Lastly, Bernard Taylor, senior business management major from Scotia, S.C., said his experience as an 1890 scholar has helped to build his confidence because he had to adapt to new environments. "Working in Colorado where I have no family or friends was a challenge, but I rose to the occasion" Taylor said referencing his summer internships.

During his summer internships with the U.S. Forest Service, Taylor participated on a public relations team that helped forest fire evacuees safely relocate their animals and families. He has also coordinated volunteer teams. After graduation, he looks forward to returning to Colorado to work as a public affairs specialist in the regional Denver office. Recounting his experiences, he said working alongside different teams representing different ethnic groups, has provided a dynamic experience that he appreciates.

Karla Martin, FVSU's USDA liaison, said the scholarship is a great opportunity for students who aspire to make a difference in agriculture. "It's best for those who have a passion to serve," Martin said.

She said the program provides a debt-free education and training, positioning students for middle management positions right out of college.

To apply to the scholarship, students must be a graduating high school senior or college freshman or sophomore. They must intend to study agriculture or a related discipline, have a 3.0 GPA or higher, attend an 1890 land-grant institution and have demonstrated leadership and participated in community service.

For more information about the USDA/1890 National Scholars Program, contact Karla Martin, at 478-825-6298 or Karla.Martin@osec.usda.gov. Information can also be found at www.outreach.usda.gov/education/1890.htm.