In February 2011, the first Beltsville Area (BA) Graduate Student Agricultural Research Symposium took place at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Beltsville, MD. The Symposium was coordinated by the BA Diversity Task Force. Its goal was to expose graduate students to career opportunities at BARC and throughout the United States Department of Agriculture.
Evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. In addition to poster and oral presentations by students, the event included time for students to meet with BARC mentors, talks by invited speakers Robert E. Davis (ARS) and Farook Sait (FSIS), an opening dinner, and a networking breakfast.
Students voiced their appreciation of the opportunities for networking, mentoring, and exposure to BARC research, as well as being able to present their own research. A sampling of student comments from the anonymous post-symposium evaluation forms includes the following:
Many aspects of the symposium, notably "networking, participation in conferences, and presentation of research" and "engaged mentors," are among interventions identified in a recent National Academy of Sciences report (Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America's Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads) as being effective in increasing minority participation in the field of science.
BARC scientists acknowledged that they benefited from interacting with the students and their university advisors and being exposed to research being conducted at 1890's universities. One called the experience "invigorating."
Student participants came from five of the 1890's institutions (Delaware State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Southern University and A&M College, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Virginia State University), as well as the University of the District of Columbia and George Mason University.
Cecilia Wilkinson Enns - BA Diversity Taskforce, Communications Subcommittee
Photos by Jim Plaskowitz - BA Information Technology Section