The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded $500,000 in funding for a project titled “MU-Osage Food & Agriculture Program for Tribal Student Recruitment, Engagement, and Success” through the New Beginnings for Tribal Students (NBTS) grant program. NBTS is a competitive grant for land-grant colleges and universities to provide identifiable support, specifically for Tribal students.
The MU-Osage Food & Ag Program is a collaborative project that grew from relationships between the University of Missouri (MU) College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) Center for Agroforestry and the Osage Nation Department of Natural Resources and Education Department, to support Osage student success in higher education here on their ancestral land.
“We are on Native land,” said Hannah Hemmelgarn, assistant program director for MU Center for Agroforestry. “The fact that many land-grant institutions aren’t serving Native students is problematic. The New Beginning for Tribal Students program is intended to change that.”
The goal for this project is to positively impact Tribal students, educators, and MU-Osage project personnel by creating culturally relevant and engaging opportunities for these students to feel welcome, safe, and supported at MU.
“This project is all about connection,” said Hemmelgarn. “Through scholarships, land-based experiences, peer and mentor support, and a more informed and responsive CAFNR community, MU-Osage students will have an opportunity to grow meaningful connections on their ancestral lands. And by increasing relevance and accessibility, there is a potential to see an increase in attendance and graduation of Indigenous students here at MU.”
Hemmelgarn, as well as MU colleagues including Sarah Lovell, director of the Center for Agroforestry, and Dusty Walter, director of natural resource management, worked collaboratively on this project proposal with Mary Wildcat, Osage Nation education department director, and Jann Hayman, Osage Nation department of natural resources director.
Tribal students from the Osage Nation will have the opportunity to participate in an experiential summer program with cultural heritage applications that will take place at MU and at Land of the Osages Research Center (LORC). This will also serve to grow place-based community connections and to inform these students about scholarships available for a 4-year degree program in CAFNR.
“The Land of the Osages Research Center is a fairly new center, but it has created space for establishing what I hope will be lasting relationships between MU and the Osage community,” Hemmelgarn said. The Indigenous roots of agroforestry make for an apt link between LORC and the Center for Agroforestry.
In addition to the experiential summer program, high school juniors and seniors will have direct support from MU CAFNR advising staff. Osage high school educators will also be equipped with CAFNR degree program information and relevant materials to inspire students to continue their education in agriculture, food, and natural resources at MU. Annual spring and fall visits to the Osage Nation from CAFNR faculty and staff will serve as an educational exchange opportunity where project personnel will learn from the Osage community about how to create meaningful cultural connections in their curricula and advising.
Through the MU-Osage Food & Ag Program, students will be supported in enrolling, attending, and graduating from MU in a four-year degree program in CAFNR. A full scholarship will be provided to a cohort of four Osage students. Native students, faculty, and allies, as an existing network at MU, will provide regular opportunities for students to safely share about their college experiences and successes.
Another component of the program is a capstone course, “Community Agroecology and Agroforestry,” which they will be able to take the fall semester of their senior year. This course aims to connect these graduating students with career applications and community-directed research related to Indigenous food sovereignty.
“We hope by working together to support students, and by growing our awareness of their experiences in CAFNR, that we can begin to address some of the structural and social barriers Tribal students face here.”