From Ohio to Puerto Rico

From Ohio to Puerto Rico
Innovative Programs Helping Rebuild Puerto Rican Agriculture

By Amber Robinson

Two undergraduate students from Puerto Rico will soon earn bachelor’s degrees from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University (CFAES) and will take their knowledge back to their hurricane-ravaged island.

Their goal is to help rebuild the agricultural industry that was damaged due to the impact of Hurricane Maria last year.

Ivanelys Martinez Santana and Katiria Peréz Fernández are working to earn bachelor’s degrees in meat science. The students, who began their academic careers at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, will complete their last two years of study in CFAES. They plan to return to Puerto Rico after graduation as part of the ongoing effort to rebuild the island’s livestock sector using innovative techniques they’ve learned here.

(l-r) CFAES leadership specialist Mary Rodriguez, Katiria Peréz Fernández, Ivanelys Martinez Santana and CFAES meat scientist Lyda G. Garcia

“There are so many opportunities for my career that I’ve found here at Ohio State,” Martinez Santana said. “The professors here really seem to care about students and really want to make sure we understand what they are teaching.”

Peréz Fernández agrees.

“CFAES offers a lot more opportunities than other universities through a variety of undergraduate meat science courses and the opportunity to do an internship,” she said. “That’s important to me because having a great internship is how many students find their first jobs.”

Their studies at Ohio State are thanks to the Multi Scholars Program and the efforts of Lyda G. Garcia, an assistant professor of meat science in the Department of Animal Sciences in CFAES. Garcia was able to use a $44,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to partially fund the scholars program, with a goal of educating students stateside in order to return to Puerto Rico to help in rebuilding efforts. Additional funds for the program are from Ohio State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and CFAES.

Garcia said she views the scholars program as an opportunity to provide additional opportunities for Latinx students at Ohio State, with an added bonus of increasing diversity in the male-dominated agricultural industry in Puerto Rico, because the top two applicants that applied for the scholars program were female. 

“This program will contribute to the meat science major while assisting in diversity within CFAES and the Department of Animal Sciences, and help us continue the legacy and prestigious reputation of CFAES.”Lyda G. Garcia

She said the program provides a “win-win” opportunity for Puerto Rico, CFAES and the Department of Animal Sciences.

“This is an ‘outside the box’ approach, in an attempt to introduce a new agricultural sector to Puerto Rico by filling a void, and to connect the dots from livestock practices to meat products and meat quality,” Garcia said. “This program will contribute to the meat science major while assisting in diversity within CFAES and the Department of Animal Sciences, and help us continue the legacy and prestigious reputation of CFAES.”

Garcia began working on a USDA grant proposal for the Multi Scholar Program before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. After seeing the devastation that resulted, Garcia tailored the grant proposal to include opportunities for the scholar program participants to return to the island and help in rebuilding efforts.

“I had been working with professors in animal science from the University of Puerto Rico for three years,” she said. “My role was to assist in adding value to their beef cattle as meat in an effort to promote Puerto Rican beef within their island.

“The agricultural industry was devastated in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria. I felt the best way to continue my efforts was to share my knowledge with the younger generation, the students. When this USDA grant was made public, I immediately called my colleagues and began to brainstorm.”

Stephen Boyles

Garcia recruited two faculty members to help with the grant development and program: Stephen Boyles, a CFAES professor of animal sciences, for his knowledge in beef nutrition and his work with Ohio State University Extension; and Mary Rodriguez, a CFAES assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership (ACEL), for her expertise in community leadership and development. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of CFAES.

“While animal sciences will equip students with the technical knowledge and skills needed to engage in more sustainable and profitable practices, ACEL will support their growth in 21st century transferable skills and the know-how to affect behavior change,” Rodriguez said.

Mary Rodriguez

During the spring 2019 semester, Martinez Santana and Peréz Fernández will begin an undergraduate research project under the guidance of Boyles and Garcia. Both students will complete internships in the Ohio State Meat Lab. They will also attend the American Meat Science Association’s annual conference in June.

The students will also participate on the Ohio State Meat Judging Team, where they will compete nationally against 20 other universities; will attend carcass shows with Garcia to evaluate livestock projects for counties, including a carcass competition; and will participate in OSU Extension programing with beef producers statewide.

As of now, the Multi Scholars Program funding is for two years, but Garcia hopes it will become a long-term opportunity for Puerto Rican students to come to Ohio State and learn about meat science.

“I really started this as a way to promote our unique meat science major and minor at Ohio State,” she said. “We’re one of the few schools in the nation that has such a major, and I am really proud of that.