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College of Agriculture earns approximately $700,000 in grant funds

Published: 10/17/14 10:01AM
By: bradleyc

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Dr. Brou Kouakou, a Fort Valley State University associate professor of ruminant nutrition, lectures to a group of students from Honduras interested in a study abroad experience at Fort Valley State University.

Students, community members and farmers may soon reap benefits from approximately $700,000 in grants funds earned by faculty in Fort Valley State University's College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology.

Dr. Brou Kouakou, FVSU associate professor of ruminant nutrition, Dr. Sarwan Dhir, FVSU associate professor of plant biotechnology, Dr. George McCommon, FVSU associate professor of veterinary sciences and Dr. Hari Singh, research assistant professor, each received an 1890 Capacity Building Grant.

The Capacity Building Grants Program is a federally funded competitive grants program provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grants are used to aid educational curriculums, research and to support outreach programs for 1890 land grant institutions.

Kouakou received $299,550 for a project entitled, "U.S. Honduras Partnerships to Strengthen Faculty and Students Global Agricultural Research Education and Cultural Experiences." For three years, these funds will aid Kouakou and agriculture sciences faculty in traveling with eight FVSU undergraduate students from the College of Agriculture to Honduras for a 28 day study abroad experience. In addition, two undergraduate students will come to FVSU from Honduras and conduct their research at FVSU to satisfy their bachelor's degree requirements. This will take place for three years. Funding will pay for air-fare, lodging and food expenses.

"Studying abroad is important because we want our students to be competitive in a global economy," Kouakou said. Statistics show that not many students from Historically Black Colleges and University's (HBCU's) participate in study abroad. He said this project will expose students to agriculture internationally, and also allow students from a foreign country to experience U.S. agriculture. It will also allow students and faculty to be exposed to different cultures contributing to their educational and cultural enrichment.

In addition, Dhir, associate professor of plant biotechnology, received $149,500 in grant funds for a project entitled, "Career Awareness Opportunities in Agricultural Biotechnology." This money will be used to pay for a biotech summer academy for incoming college freshman and high school seniors interested in plant biotechnology career tracks. Funding will also provide 15 students scholarships of up to $3000 for two years of study.

He said this is important because the education received at FVSU prepares students to solve some of the world's challenges, and the scholarships help FVSU to attract students who perform well. "Our ability to offer undergraduate scholarship packages is one of the things that help us attract top students to Fort Valley State University, and we're very grateful for NIFA's support and commitment to our efforts. With the scholarships, students can spend more time studying and less time on outside work. That will allow them to graduate faster and have better grades," Dhir said. The funding also aims to increase minority representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.

Furthermore, McCommon received $149,922.50 to carry out a project named, "Increasing Enrollment and Retention of Minority Students in Veterinary Technology Programs While Providing Extension Services to Ag Educators and the Community." McCommon said this project is important because statistically recruitment and retention of minority students in veterinary technology is low" This is an opportunity to recruit, retain and engage our students and motivate them to provide service. It wins on many levels," McCommon said.

With this funding, faculty and staff members in FVSU's Department of Veterinary Sciences and Public Health plan to visit middle schools to teach and expose students to veterinary sciences. They will also bring students on campus for field trips and recruit students through FVSU's 4-H Program and the Future Farmers of America organization. Moreover, the funding will also help to develop a community practice
clinic where veterinary science students will provide veterinary services to the community at a low cost. Funding for this project will be distributed over two years.

Lastly, Dr. Hari Singh received $99,034 for a project entitled, "Training for Value Added Utilization of Cellulosic Crop Using Nano-and Biofuel Processing Technologies to Incorporate into Existing Instruction and Research." From these funds, Singh will obtain specialized training at the University of Wisconsin in developing value added products for small limited-resource farmers growing energy cane, sweet sorghum, switchgrass and napier grass.

Energy cane and sweet sorghum are squeezed to obtain juice for conversion to ethanol. The squeezed stalks called bagasse are used for producing heat by burning. Singh wants to find high value use for this remaining material by processing it into nanocrystals. The nanocrystals can be used to create reinforcement material. This reinforcement material generated from bagasse can be used in electronics, textiles, cement, biomedical devices and other materials. "The goal is to get the farmers to generate high profit from the energy cane and sweet sorghum by developing many high value uses for the crop which can include forage for animals, ethanol for biofuel and nanocrystals for many industrial uses," Singh said.

Singh plans to use the nanotechnology expertise in his research to produce patented nanocrystal processing technology specific for energy cane and sweet sorghum. He will also train students, other scientists and industries in nanotechnology applications. The funding will be distributed over a two year period.

Dr. Govind Kannan, dean of Fort Valley State University's College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology expressed his appreciation for the efforts of faculty in the College. "The hard work of our faculty and their commitment to service and education improves the community, provides a well-rounded and challenging experience for our students, and offers expertise to impact agriculture and business. I am extremely pleased and look forward to the outcomes of each project," Kannan said.