In response to changing agriculture priorities, the plant/agricultural biotechnology industry is growing in the California Central Coast region. Individuals from Hispanic communities continue to be underrepresented in biotechnology. This project is led by Alan Hancock College, a rural, federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution in central California. The project is designed to increase the participation of individuals from Hispanic communities in plant/agricultural biotechnology. To do so, the project team will develop stackable credentials that prepare students to enter the region’s plant/agricultural biotechnology workforce and can lead to an new associate degree in plant/agriculture biotechnology. This degree program will be designed in collaboration with local industry partners and stakeholders in K- 14 education. The project will train local high school teachers in biotechnology skills aligned with the new curriculum, thus creating a pathway from high school into plant/agricultural biotechnology. The project expects this approach will increase the interest and success in the skilled biotechnology workforce for second-generation Hispanic youth. As a result, the project has the potential to help diversify the STEM technical workforce and ensure that students of color become members of the next generation of scientists. In doing so, the project can help to mitigate the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the communities it will serve.
Using evidence-based strategies identified for Hispanic Serving Institutions, the project will: 1) develop two stackable certificates, based on courses in biotechnology, plant tissue culture, and genetics, that lead to an associate of science degree in plant/agricultural biotechnoloy; 2) provide high school faculty with professional development and create a pipeline of prospective students into the associate degree program by increasing awareness and providing hands-on experience in biotechnology; 3) offer institutional, student-centric support and engage students in work-based learning experiences in plant/agricultural biotechnology; 4) expand collaboration and partnerships with local agriculture biotechnology industries that can prepare Hispanic students for emerging technical jobs, including those in the field of agricultural biodiagnostics. This training will enable Hispanic students to develop skills that are transferable to other sectors and help to alleviate the shortage of skilled technical workers in the state. In addition, this funding can generate revenue needed to sustain the degree program, helping to alleviate COVID-19-related impacts on the College itself.