05:39 AM

Grant to Benefit Sustainability Education Offerings


By Mark Kramer

The University of Houston-Downtown’s Center for Urban Agriculture and Sustainability (CUAS) received a boost after being awarded a $246,550 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

NIFA presented the funding in collaboration with the Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Education Grants Program to help carry out applied research and related community development projects to attract, retain and graduate students capable of enhancing the nation’s food, agricultural, natural resource and human sciences workforce.

According to CUAS Director Dr. Lisa Morano, the grant will be used to expand its programs and outreach to underrepresented students with the creation of the Sustainability Technology and Agricultural Needs (SUSTAIN) initiative. The first cohort of SUSTAIN scholars has been selected and will begin the two-semester program at the start of the spring semester in January.

Along with students taking sustainability related courses, other student learning opportunities involve field trips and discussions that will culminate in a team project involving building and evaluating a system to solve a sustainable agricultural problem using the principles of renewable energy and social change.

Teaming Up for Team Project

To help the students expand their knowledge for the team projects, they will be mentored by Morano, professor of biology and microbiology, Dr. Vassilios Tzouanas, associate professor of engineering technology and Dr. Bill Flores, professor of political science.

“Dr. Tzouanas and I will discuss solutions with the students for solving current sustainability issues,” Morano said. “Dr. Flores will educate the students about the importance of combining social sciences with natural sciences and technology when trying to address real-world problems.”

Morano said the team project may have a digital or educational component that focuses on solving a current problem through new technology that runs on renewable energy. To get inspired about what problems need to be solved, several field trips are planned.

“We will be collaborating with Urban Harvest to visit community gardens around Houston to learn what problems need to be addressed,” she added. “We have field trips planned to a solar power company, several local urban farms and the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.”

Paying It Forward: Students Sharing Knowledge

UHD students will take what they have learned to mentor high school students from two sections of Urban Agriculture at Westside High School. The sessions with the Westside students will take place through Zoom video chat . At the end of the semester, the high school students will visit UHD for a day of experiments and learning.

Preparing for Their Future

After two semesters, the SUSTAIN students will complete a summer internship with one of the CUAS programs external partners, such as non-profit farms, government agencies or renewable energy companies.

“As they learn to work together in diverse cross-disciplinary teams, it will set them up to be successful in their internships,” Morano noted.

Greater Access to the Program

Another benefit of the grant funding is that it will help provide students greater accessibility to course offerings.

“In order to make the information more accessible to a larger audience, we plan to move the required courses to the minor completely online over the next few years,” she said. “Sustainability is a fast-moving field and it will be important in every career in the future. We are excited about the opportunities that this grant is going to provide for our students.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.