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USDA ARS sets stage for next-generation researchers

ARS will start pilot phase of project with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has virtually launched its "Three Sisters Project," a new educational outreach effort to ensure a steady pipeline of fresh ideas, talent, and diversity to the ranks of tomorrow's scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians and other professionals. 

“In agricultural parlance, ‘The Three Sisters’ are crops planted together in a shared space: maize, beans, and squash," ARS Administrator Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young explained during the project's virtual launch. "Developed through indigenous agricultural practices, these three plants protect and nourish each other in different ways as they grow and provide a solid diet for their cultivators."

In the same way, ARS's Three Sisters Project will engage its scientists and national program staff in fostering opportunities for urban high school students across the country to explore careers in agricultural science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields overall.

ARS will start a pilot phase of the project with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS), whose students will participate in various learning activities with scientists from laboratories in the agency's Midwest Area and with Office of National Program leaders headquartered in Beltsville, Md.

Dr. Jacobs-Young said CHSAS was a natural choice to partner with given the robustness of the college preparatory school's agricultural program and focus on helping students from across the city of Chicago to develop marketable skills and college-level competencies. The program's curricula expose participating students to everything from agricultural finances and economics, to mechanics, food technology and animal science.

"Both Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and I have had the great honor of delivering commencement speeches to graduating students at this remarkable school," said Dr. Jacobs-Young, who also serves as USDA's acting chief scientist and acting under secretary for  research, education and economics. "We've worked to formalize our engagement with CHSAS and are excited to begin the pilot of this project as a model to expand it to other urban high schools in the coming years."

Student-enrichment activities will include virtual seminars with students, ARS laboratory field trips, science fair consultations and competitions, experiential training for faculty and cohort mentoring sessions.

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