Mentor Collective – higher education’s preferred peer mentorship platform – and the 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development (COE SSWD) – a consortium of representatives from seven 1890 land-grant universities – are expanding data-driven mentorship across six institutions to strengthen the agricultural workforce pipeline. This collaboration is one of many initiatives funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s NextGen Grant (Award No. 2023-70440-40153). The partnership amplifies career-readiness strategies across six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by offering upper-division students in food, agriculture, natural resources, human sciences (FANH), and STEM fields with relevant industry mentors. Programs are expected to start in spring 2024 with Mentor Collective recruiting and training alumni and industry mentors.
Vaishali Gakhar of Mentor Collective collaborated with the 1890 Center of Excellence to scale mentorship to support the entire student life cycle. The six institutions – North Carolina A&T, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Tuskegee University, Prairie View A&M, Florida A&M, and Fort Valley State University – have collaborated with Mentor Collective since 2021, engaging nearly 900 students as mentees and mentors. Since the peer-to-peer programs launched, the participating institutions have seen positive outcomes related to student belonging, academic self-efficacy, and retention due to the robust student support network and actionable student-insight data provided through the platform. This expanded alliance will engage alumni and industry professionals as mentors and help the institutions develop market-ready talent while gaining unbiased insights into the challenges students face navigating from higher education into the competitive FANH and STEM fields.
"Our partnership with Mentor Collective is not just a collaboration; it is a commitment. A commitment to elevate and empower our next generation of leaders in the FANH and broader STEM fields,” said Dr. Nina Lyon Bennett, Assistant Dean for Academics at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and will provide leadership for the mentoring component of the NextGen Grant. “With the generous backing of the USDA's NextGen grant, we are able to shape a brighter, more inclusive future for students across these revered HBCUs."
“Effective student engagement, which encompasses mentoring, is a key factor in the matriculation of successful college students,” said Dr. Antoine Alston, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Studies in North Carolina A&T State University’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. “This partnership of connecting students in the FANH Disciplines with requisite industry mentors is a key factor in the development of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they will need as future professionals. This initiative will truly be a game changer and serve as a model for all Land-Grant institutions.”
"Mentor Collective is not just a platform; it's a window into the student experience for administrators and leaders working to fulfill the promise of higher education,” said Jackson Boyar, Co-Founder & CEO of Mentor Collective. “With this evolution of our MEA Center partnership, we are expanding on the rich culture of support synonymous with HBCUs by creating opportunities for students to see themselves in these vital sectors, while helping institutions understand the opportunity gaps and barriers that prevent students from realizing fulfilling careers.”
The 1890 Center of Excellence serves all nineteen 1890 land-grant universities and is led by representatives from seven of these institutions. As a champion for careers in food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences among historically underrepresented student populations, the consortium of universities was awarded $18.1 million for its proposal, “System Approach to Promote Learning and Innovation for the Next GenerationS (SAPLINGS) of professionals and leaders in Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Human Sciences'', via the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture's NextGen Grant. SAPLINGS partners and stakeholders include local communities and K-12 educators across 7 states, 12 universities (7 1890 and 5 1862 LGUs), 6 non-profits, 9 federal and state agencies, and 5 industries from national corporations to small URM farmers. SAPLINGS will prepare URM students across the educational continuum–4-H youth, Grades 5-12 (G5-12), and college—for USDA and other federal and private sector employment. Supported activities include formal and informal outreach and engagement, integrated recruitment, training and retention initiatives, scholarships, mentoring, experiential learning, and other student support.
In its expansive reach, the NextGen Grant has catalyzed 33 transformative projects across 24 states and insular areas, mobilizing a significant investment of $262.5 million, with the vision to shape an estimated 20,000 future leaders within the FANH and STEM sectors. ‘From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals Program’ (the NextGen Grant), is part of the USDA’s efforts to strengthen their workforce through providing enhanced educational opportunities and training to eligible institutions. The alignment of this USDA grant with the MEA Center, and an expansion into large-scale, industry mentorship, underscores the need to fortify diverse student and alumni networks with the skills and social capital to thrive in the future workforce.
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About Mentor Collective
Mentor Collective is an education technology platform that drives student belonging and retention through student voice analysis, research-backed assessment, and scalable peer mentorship solutions. Supported by Lumina Foundation, Mentor Collective's proprietary approach to student success brings student insights to the forefront of strategic planning. The company partners with 180+ institutions to monitor sense of belonging, refer students to campus resources, and transform student success practices with actionable insights.
About The 1890 Center of Excellence for Student Success and Workforce Development (COE SSWD)
Situated at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, The SSWD Center is devoted to inspiring and backing young individuals from underrepresented minority groups. Through its extensive network across 1890 land-grant universities, the center fosters engagement in STEM fields, particularly in food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences.