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SDSU leads national initiative to develop the future leaders in food, climate and sustainable agriculture

South Dakota State University is the recipient of a three-year, $749,977 grant to find innovative ways to develop future workforce in food, agriculture, natural and human sciences (FANH) fields by leveraging honors education. 
The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently announced the Higher Education Challenge grant recipients.
Led by co-project directors Rebecca Bott-Knutson, dean of the Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College, and Joseph Cassady, South Dakota Corn Endowed Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, SDSU will collaborate with a team of other land-grant and minority-serving institutions in FANH programs. Partners include Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University and Virginia Tech. 
The four lead institutions will be part of a nationwide network designed to develop innovative approaches for a Grand Challenge Scholars Institute and to empower systems thinking and career readiness essential for the FANH fields. 
“High-impact, collaborative, transformational learning experiences are hallmarks of honors education,” Bott-Knutson said. “Imagine every honors student has access to the top content experts and educators in the nation/world. Further imagine that they have regular access to one another, collectively cultivating a comprehensive worldview, unrestricted by geography or financial need.” 
The team’s vision was the driving force for members of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Council on Honors Education Student Opportunities Collaborative in the grant project. 
Over the course of the three-year project—“The Justice Challenge: Engaging Students in the Future of Food, Climate and Sustainable Agriculture”—participating institutions will explore an annual grand challenge theme related to USDA priority areas. Food justice, climate justice and sustainable agriculture are the yearly themes.  
Each year a new cohort of honors students will participate in the Grand Challenge Scholars Institute, which begins with a colloquium, introducing the students to the theme and to each other. Then, students will participate in their choice of a signature experience—field experience, design challenge or hackathon. Each one-year institute concludes with a conference to showcase the students’ work and to enhance networks between students and leading experts in the FANH sciences. 
“As a result of these interactions, honors graduates enter the workforce better prepared to address the world’s greatest challenges with compassionate systems approaches,” Bott-Knutson added. 
The overall objective of the project is to create more diverse and well-prepared graduates in the FANH disciplines who are ready to tackle the complex challenges of today. Program graduates will be ready to enter the workforce with both an innovative skillset and mindset—essential in today’s world. 
The project is expected to bring together more than 500 undergraduate students from across the country. Other participating institutions include the University of Toledo, University of Louisville, University of Montana, Virginia State University, Northern Illinois University, California Lutheran University, Binghamton University, Southern Illinois University, University of Illinois Chicago and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
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