Thanks in part to a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Kentucky State University (KSU) is working to enhance environmental science education under the newly launched undergraduate program in Agriculture, Food, and Environment (AFE).
The overall objective of this program is to enhance and strengthen the environmental science curriculum by providing a wider scope of environmental science courses and experiential learning opportunities for students. We are working to review curricula and develop six new courses, offer a dual-credit course to high school students, launch a summer bridge program, create competitive stipends and enhance students mentoring/advising.
Students will receive opportunities to engage in various experiential learning opportunities, such as water quality monitoring; studies of the landscape and hydrology of the Kentucky River using GIS- and remote sensing-based tools; profiling of the Kentucky River ecosystem, soil quality, runoff, and flora and fauna in the Kentucky River watershed.
This project supports KSU’s goal of elevating programs to higher standards with competent faculty who will have enhanced teaching capabilities and who have created market-responsive curricula. It also supports our continuing efforts toward increases in our student recruitment, retention and graduation rates.
In addition, this project will strengthen and expand the institutional linkage with high schools, private companies, and government agencies for further collaboration for recruitment, internships, and cooperative education. The environmental science option in the AFE program will develop a pipeline of students for the Masters in Environmental Studies at KSU.
The major outcome of this project will be a strengthened Agriculture, Food and Environment undergraduate program with enhanced Environmental Science option, with innovative curricula and teaching pedagogy for producing young environmental scientists with knowledge and research exposure in environmental management, geospatial applications, and climate change studies.
As its name implies, the primary goals of the Strengthening Environmental Science Program for Preparing Minority Young Scientists for the 21st Century program are: a) to enhance the quality of KSU’s environmental education program and b) attract greater numbers of minorities to careers in the environmental sciences.
Toward that end, the curriculum committee of KSU’s College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems has held a series of discussions about strengthening the Agriculture, Food and Environment (AFE) program and curricula. The committee identified as its priorities:
- integrating cross disciplinary environmental sciences,
- developing courses in Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing, and
- offering experiential research opportunities.
The expectation is that enhancing these areas will better prepare the workforce by developing expertise in the analysis, visualization, and interpretation of agricultural and environmental management issues, as well as climate change problems and patterns. CAFSSS recognizes that creating experiential learning opportunities for students with their advisors and researchers is a necessary component of a highly effective educational program. The department also is committed to developing partnerships with high schools and offering dual credit courses and merit-based stipends to encourage students to engage in research activities. These are all necessary if the AFE program is to attract new students, sustain them financially, and reduce the likelihood that they will drop out of the program.
As noted, one goal of the project is to attract high school students to KSU’s AFE undergraduate program. A major part of this particular initiative is the new “Summer Bridge” program. Each year, 15 participating high school juniors and seniors from five area high schools will spend four weeks in specialized training.
Summer Bridge will have several specific benefits. For example, the project will help acquaint high school students with KSU’s campus and its academic and learning environments. It also will help prepare these students for college life by generally familiarizing them with a college campus and higher education policies, programs and procedures. Thirdly, it will help them to learn about higher education research programs, specifically in the environmental sciences. The program also will help us attain our goal of attracting high-school students to KSU, since many high schools are not yet aware of KSU’s Agriculture, Food and Environment program.
Summer Bridge will be linked to KSU’s existing EnvironMentors program, through which five students from three local high schools in Franklin County currently work one-on-one with a mentor to create a project about an environmental science issue. During the first two weeks of Summer Bridge, participants will
During the first two weeks of Summer Bridge, the focus will be on preparing students for college, with instruction on the differences between high school and college, computer literacy, brain teasing math, online data search, smart reading, writing and note taking, test preparation and time management, critical thinking exercises, professional communication and presentation skills. During the second half of the program, students will be exposed to KSU’s research projects and be involved in ongoing projects .
Besides KSU’s faculty and researchers, guest speakers from state and private companies who work in environmental management occupations will be invited to speak about the ways environmental science can enhance their future academic and professional careers. Site visits will be made to the Kentucky Department of Transporation, ALLTECH, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) offices in Frankfort and Lexington. Participating students will receive a stipend for room and board, meals, transportation and other costs.
Kentucky State University (KSU) has made a long-term, ongoing investment in facilities and land to support education and research efforts to meet the needs of students.
For example, KSU owns 15 acres of certified organic land at the KSU farm, which is six miles from the KSU campus in Frankfort.
In addition, KSU’s Environmental Education & Research Center (EERC) is comprised of about 300 acres of hardwood forest, creeks, open space and bird and wildlife habitat. Use of this facility exposes our students to nature and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
CAFSSS’s on-campus computer lab has a capacity of 18 students and is equipped with distance learning equipment as well as GIS and remote sensing software, GPS units, a plotter and scanners.
The university acquired a floating vessel in 2013, the Kentucky River Thorobred, to facilitate research and learning directly on the Kentucky River. Meanwhile, the Kentucky River Interpretive Center, which is located at the EERC, has models of the geologic settings and hydrology of the river, its flora and fauna, the land use and land cover adjacent to the river, as well as a history of the Kentucky River. These facilities will be used for experiential and beyond the classroom learning for students.
Students who visit these facilities will be exposed to a broader concept of the environment, learn about the complexity of the environment, and become proficient in the sciences needed to learn and understand complex environmental ecosystems. These settings will enable both undergraduates and summer program students from high schools to interact with nature while enhancing their knowledge and research skills through practical research, critical thinking, critical reasoning, curiosity and analytical capability.
Another goal of the environmental education program is to promote experiential learning, especially among a small group of “student scholars.” These students – who will be identified during their freshman year as highly qualified – will be asked to serve as role model scholars for peer-mentorship, and they will have multiple opportunities to participate in research.
Because the mentors will have successfully transitioned into their majors, they will be in a unique position to provide guidance for incoming students. They will help manage academic schedules, share study strategies, promote a team-building spirit for collective learning, and assist new students with navigating campus culture and life. This focused one-on-one mentoring and counseling will help recognize early academic difficulties and help students devise a plan of action for success.
Our student scholars, who will receive stipends to help with room, board and meals, also will engage in experiential research with faculty during their sophomore, junior and senior years. These student scholars will mentor incoming students as environmental “ambassadors” and, during their junior and senior years, as recruiters. They will occasionally travel to high schools with the project team to support recruitment efforts and to talk with high school students about their experiences at KSU, as well as to share how and why they chose careers in environmental science.
These upper-class students who have successfully transitioned into their major will provide guidance for incoming students. Mentors help manage academic schedules, share study strategies, promote team-building spirit for collective learning, and assist new students with navigating campus culture and life. Focused one-on-one mentoring and counseling will be designed to recognize early academic difficulties and help students devise a plan of action for success.
Our current Agriculture, Food & Environment (AFE) undergraduate student scholars are:
A primary focus of this project is to attract more students to the field of environmental science through very intentional recruitment, retention and summer-bridge programs. The project will work closely with both the private sector and with agricultural and science teachers and counselors in high schools across Kentucky.
These collaborative efforts with businesses and high schools also offer an opportunity to develop online courses for non-traditional students and students at other 1890s schools. The project will establish linkages with many high schools by offering dual credit course(s). These courses will expose high school students to KSU and the AFE program, which will help us better recruit qualified students. We also will provide opportunities for students from across the state to attend summer programs at KSU each year.
How we will measure progress:
The major result of this project will be a strengthened Agriculture, Food and Environment undergraduate program with an enhanced and science-based Environmental Science Option curricula and experiential learning activities. The following are a few specific expected measurable outcomes:
- Recruitment of at least 10 new students in the first year and increased enrollment in the environmental option by 5 to 10 percent every year;
- Development of six new courses (one dual credit course) and revision of four courses;
- Development of strategic partnerships with six new high schools and three new agencies/companies for internships;
- participation of 15 high school juniors and seniors in the summer bridge program each year;
- Improved retention and graduation rates: undergraduates enrolled in the first year will be retained by 70% and 80% of these students will graduate in the fourth year;
- Development of five model scholars who will conduct peer tutoring and assist in recruitment as “Ambassadors of Environmental Science”;
- Allocation of five stipends to the competitive students;
- An increase of 5 percent in enrollment in the Master of Environmental Science graduate program, as the new pool of undergraduates enroll in the MES program after completing their undergraduate degrees;
- Poster presentations by at least five students in professional meetings annually (in the second and third years of the program);
- At least two students will participate in summer internships with state agencies or companies;
- Improved academic performance (average GPA of undergraduates is expected to increase by 25 percent) of other students who are not in the stipend and not participating in experiential learning activities.