New Mexico State University faculty member Alvaro Romero, Ph.D., assistant professor of urban entomology, was one of five scientists at Hispanic-serving institutions to receive the 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture's E. Kika de la Garza Fellowship.
"It's an honor to be selected for this fellowship," Romero said. "I want to take full advantage of this opportunity because this is an excellent chance to contribute to education - to mine and of my students. It is a step forward in my research and it will increase the notability of NMSU."
This competitive 3 week-fellowship, which began June 6, is awarded to professors performing agricultural research. It offers faculty from Hispanic-serving institutions the opportunity to work collaboratively with USDA to acquire insight and understanding of the entity.
"I'm proud of him," said Gerald Sims, department head of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science at NMSU. "It is very impressive for somebody in his early career stage to be recognized in this way. It identifies him as an outstanding scientist."
Each year, participants are selected based on their curriculum vitae and the potential impact their research can have on their respective institutions.
"The importance of my visit here is to find out opportunities, and how they can be useful to Hispanic-serving institutions. At NMSU, I can raise awareness in faculty and students about the possible interactions and programs with USDA that benefit our students," Romero said. "There are plenty of opportunities for Hispanics in the USDA system that we don't know about. I want to go back with all this experience to NMSU and talk to people through workshops or seminars about the USDA programs."
Romero, who is originally from Colombia, explained that this fellowship will also help him establish connections with other Hispanic scientists in his research area to create projects on urban pests and eventually expand the research agenda of his program. Urban entomology is a new and one-of-a-kind program in NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
He spent the first two weeks in Maryland at the Beltsville Agriculture Research Center, the largest USDA research center, where he conducted research in one of his areas of expertise, bed bugs, and the remainder of the fellowship in Washington, D.C., where he learned about funding opportunities for his program.
One of his goals is to boost graduate and undergraduate student enrollment and participation in USDA internships and programs in agriculture and pest management areas. This, as he explained, will help graduates find jobs with federal and private agencies.
"I was discussing possibilities that in the future, my students can come to the center and do internships that help them develop research skills, especially get familiar with urban entomology. There are many opportunities here for students," Romero said. "USDA has excellent researchers and labs, and I want our students to take advantage of that because this is a unique opportunity."
Sims explained that USDA has had a long-standing relationship with land grant universities from the research standpoint, but the entity is still learning how to approach HSIs from the academic side. He added that Romero's fellowship will give NMSU the ability to influence USDA and educate them about its needs.
"I think I will gain a lot from this experience," Romero added. "I will learn how the USDA operates and the opportunities we will have as a Hispanic-serving institution. It will be very important to know how the system works, especially how we can approach funding so we can be more successful."