Science educators from Puerto Rico train in Fort Valley State’s laboratory

Published By: Latasha Ford October 3, 2023

Educators from Puerto Rico work alongside Fort Valley State University researchers in the plant science-biotechnology laboratory at the Stallworth Biotechnology Building.

High and middle school educators from Puerto Rico trained in Fort Valley State University’s plant science-biotechnology laboratory during summer 2023.

For a week, Nancy Barbosa De la Cruz, Laura Rivera Ortiz and Adam Ramos Santana learned various aspects of plant tissue culture. The visiting science educators worked with FVSU research assistant Samantha Sherman, biotechnology graduate student Birat Sapkota and FVSU plant science-biotechnology professor Dr. Nirmal Joshee. They participated in preparing and dispensing culture media and subculturing sterile plant materials into the tissue culture vessels, which they were able to take home and share with their students.

FVSU is not new to working with educators in Puerto Rico. Joshee established a scientific partnership with Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Barranquitas more than a decade ago. He said this training and prior research opportunities benefit FVSU and academic institutions in Puerto Rico.

“It opens the door for a whole new suite of people to look at Fort Valley State University as a place to come for any degree and at other schools in the state to pursue a Ph.D.,” Sherman emphasized. She added that schools such as the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Barranquitas offers doctoral programs and could attract FVSU students.

When asked about their experience at FVSU, the three educators commended Sherman for her passion and love for agriculture and science. De la Cruz, whose teaching career spans 30 years, also expressed her love for education and helping others.

“Everything I can learn in my life is not just good for myself,” she said. The science teacher, who works at Juan Ponce De Leon High School in San Juan, Puerto Rico, added that engaging in research at FVSU’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology was a new and exciting experience.

De la Cruz further shared that her father, who grew his own food, valued agriculture. With her knowledge and agricultural upbringing, she noted the advanced techniques she gained at FVSU are progressive toward preparing students for future success.

In addition, Ortiz beamed about working in FVSU’s plant science-biotechnology laboratory. “Being in the lab is like a dream,” she said. “This place is like a family, and everyone is always willing to help. The best experience is helping others to make their dreams come true.”

Ortiz teaches at a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) middle school in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After 10 years of teaching, she said her involvement at FVSU was an opportunity to grow as an educator and share information with her students. She also mentors high school students to help prepare them for science fairs.

Ortiz described how her students’ eyes lit up after wearing something as simple as a lab coat. She stressed the monumental impact it had on changing their perspective about the possibilities of science and agriculture. She is looking forward to continuing the partnership with FVSU to benefit students’ growth and expose them to various technologies.

Furthermore, Santana expressed how educating young minds is very important. He teaches animal health at the Superior Vocacional Antonio Reyes Padilla in Utuado, Puerto Rico. The 12-year veteran educator said the key takeaway working in FVSU’s laboratory was the state-of-the-art equipment. Exposed to agriculture by his father and grandfather, he is fortunate to engage in research projects such as helping to create a digital game to expose more young people to agriculture and science.

Dr. Alok Arun, associate professor for the Institute of Sustainable Biotechnology at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Barranquitas, served as principal investigator of this educational experience. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded the training.