Texas Tech program brings agricultural scholars from developing countries
The leaders in Texas Tech's Office of International Affairs are seeing growth of a program that brings scholars from developing countries to Texas Tech to complete a doctorate degree and help solve food security and availability issues in their native lands.
The Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program is named after Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug with a goal of increasing the number of agricultural scientists and strengthening scientific institutions in developing countries. Texas Tech has been involved with the program for two years and saw its enrollment triple from the first year to the second.
"As an institution of higher education, we need to operate in a global context, and these types of programs allow our students to understand global issues and the faculty to work within that global challenge," said Sukant Misra, the associate vice provost for international programs..
The BHEARD program was developed in 2013 at Michigan State University through a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Association of Public Land-grant Universities. Texas Tech became involved in the program in 2014 when an open call was held by Michigan State for universities who wished to join the program.
With Texas Tech's strong background in agricultural education through Tech's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, it seemed the BHEARD program was a perfect fit. Of the 13 universities participating in the program, Texas Tech is the only non-land grant university. But that hasn't stopped Tech from being one of the leading universities in the program, growing from three students chosen to attend Tech for the 2014-15 academic year to six additional students for 2015-16, and more anticipated for next fall.
Scholars who apply to the BHEARD program come from 'Feed the Future' countries, mostly African and Central American countries dealing with issues of food supply and security. Those selected are then paired with a faculty adviser in one of three departments "" Agricultural Education and Communication, Agricultural and Applied Economics and Plant and Soil Science.
After three years pursuing their degree at Tech, students return to their home country to finish their fourth year and earn their degree, and their Tech faculty adviser travels to their home country for about 10 days during that fourth year to assist them.
Scholars wishing to study at an American university must have a master's degree and must meet the same rigorous admission standards as any other doctorate applicant to Tech. In addition, scholars must score at least a 79 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which is a university requirement, though there are options to consider students who score below that mark if there are significant reasons to do so.
In the first two years of the program, Tech has received more than $1.4 million from USAID to educate these students, which includes travel expenses, all educational costs, health insurance and housing. The students chosen for the program are hired as graduate research assistants.
Once Texas Tech was chosen to participate in the program, Reagan Ribordy, the senior grants administrator in the OIA's International Research and Development Division, became the point person responsible for Texas Tech's direction in BHEARD. She is responsible for putting together and submitting applications and matching potential scholars with appropriate faculty members.
Texas Tech's early success and growth within the program can be credited to several factors, including delivery; flexibility; competitiveness of the doctorate programs; and experience and expertise of the faculty adviser. Separately, a big component to the program is having the students spend their fourth year earning their doctorate in their home country. That allows them to get a head start on tackling the problem for which they are earning their degree in the first place.
Theophilus Tengey entered the program in the 2014 class and is earning a degree in plant and soil science with the hope of solving the food security problems faced by developing countries, such as his native Ghana.
"I chose to study crop science, specifically with a research focus on plant breeding and genetics, because there are few experts in this area to solve the many problems faced by farmers in my country," Tengey said. "Availability of experts in this area will help keep farmers in business as high-yielding, adaptable crop varieties will be made available for production.
Tengey's adviser, assistant professor Venugopal Mendu, said he has found the students in the program to be highly motivated to learn science and novel technologies and easily adaptable to their new environment. "Since we have an international environment at Texas Tech, it was not very difficult for the students to get adapted to live at Texas Tech," Mendu said. "They have quickly adjusted to the academic and personal life at Texas Tech."
Assistant professor Amy Boren, another adviser in the program, echoed Mendu's sentiments about the passion for learning from these students. "I have found the sense of purpose in my BHEARD student is very strong," Boren said. "She knows what impact she wants to have on her home country and my job is to help her make that happen."
Boren's student, Cheryl Williams, an agricultural education and communication candidate from Liberia, said the BHEARD program has given her the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of studying abroad that she might not have had otherwise. "I want to contribute to the development and training of young scientists in Liberia so, together, we can sensitize the public on the utilization of food for nutrition security," Williams said. "The BHEARD program offered a great opportunity, which I seized.
Reporting by George Watson
CONTACT: Michael Galyean, Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2808 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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