U of I Awarded National Science Foundation Grant to Mentor Latino Students
Photo: University Of Illinois
Latino faculty at the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) are taking the lead to mentor the next generation of Latino scientists through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant recently awarded to Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, Sandra Rodriguez Zas, Maria Villamil, and Jesse Thompson.
“We are fortunate to be selected as part of the Undergraduate Research and Mentoring program of NSF. Illinois has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations, and this population is highly underrepresented in science and research,” said Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, co-principal investigator and professor in the Department of Crop Sciences.
The $662,836 NSF grant award will be used to establish a U of I program focused on mentoring Latino undergraduate students titled “New Biology Fellows.”
Villamil, an assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences, is one of many faculty who are concerned about the number of Latino students in the College of ACES.
“With less than 50 percent of Latino students graduating from high school, rigorous college entrance requirements, financial challenges, a lack of role models, and little to no exposure to biosciences, it’s not surprising that few Latinos enter into science, technology, engineering and math fields at the U of I,” she said.
Students haven’t been exposed to “new biology” or the integration of all of these areas into one multidisciplinary field. They see biology, math, physics, engineering and computer sciences as separate entities, said Sandra Rodriguez Zas, co-principal investigator and professor in the Department of Animal Sciences.
“A limited number of students possess the quantitative and informatics background, combined with a firm grounding in biology and agricultural sciences, necessary to make full use of the large datasets available to enhance agricultural sustainability and community wellness,” Rodriguez Zas said.