Profile: AEC’s Rudy Ritz works to meet needs of Hispanic students
By: Karen Michael
Rudy Ritz grew up in Meadow, less than a half-hour's drive from Texas Tech, and he hopes his background as a Hispanic student near the university can help attract other Hispanic students from nearby areas to the sciences.
Ritz is now an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Education & Communications. He and other faculty members are working on ways to help Hispanic students get involved in undergraduate research and support initiatives that offer experiential learning opportunities like internships.
Texas Tech was designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education in 2019, and Hispanic students have comprised more than 25% of the university's student population since 2017. The designation allows the university to seek $10 million in additional Department of Education funds to enhance educational opportunities, as well as allowing researchers at the university access to increased federal research funding, including grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the USDA, among others.
Ritz's current research focuses on recruiting underrepresented students in food and agricultural sciences, especially those who want to stay in the region.
“Never in my dreams would I have thought at the age of 18, that I would have the ability to get a terminal degree,” he said. Ritz received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas Tech, followed by 14 years as an agriscience teacher before deciding to return to Texas Tech for a Doctor of Education degree.
But he said having all three of his degrees from one university is unusual in academia, because students interested in graduate-level studies are encouraged to go to different institutions. Ritz believes that advice can be detrimental to Hispanic students.
“Hispanic people don't leave their families,” Ritz said.
Ritz is the co-principal investigator on an HSI grant in collaboration with New Mexico State University. Researchers from the two universities are working to attract and increase enrollment of underrepresented students in the food and agricultural sciences. The grant was awarded by the USDA's National Institute of Food &Agriculture. Ritz credits Steve Fraze, a former Texas Tech interim dean of the Davis College who moved on to head the Agricultural and Extension Education Department at New Mexico State University, as the principal investigator on the project.
The grant is designed to help Texas Tech and NMSU recruit future scientists and to try to keep those students in the region and close to their families. Ritz said five undergraduate students will join the program each year and will be paired with a faculty mentor in the Davis College.
“One of the main benefits for students is that they'll have a better understanding of research,” Ritz said. “It'll give them a chance to see a world that our undergraduate students for the very, very large majority are never exposed to. It will also give them the opportunity to understand the skills involved with research investigations, that they can actually do it. It's not beyond their reach to pursue that master's level degree, or even a terminal degree.”
Through the grant collaboration, Ritz also hopes to create a partnership with NMSU where each school encourages its undergraduates to consider attending the other school for graduate work. This will give them exposure to a diverse group of faculty, but it will still keep them closer to their homes and families.
“Maybe if we approach this with the grow our own and keep them at home mentality, we might be a little more successful in recruiting and retaining future faculty who are Hispanic,” Ritz said. “They're not going to go to Ohio State.”
Ritz said Hispanic enrollment has gone up 142% since 2014 in the Davis College. “We need to keep growing because the numbers aren't anywhere near representative of our Hispanic population in the state,” he said. “But they're right here in our backyard. I'm an example of that.”
CONTACT: Scott Burris, Chair, Department of Agricultural Education & Communications, Texas Tech University at (806) 834-8689 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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