9 July 2023

From Learning to Leading

PEPS receives mega grant to create biosecurity career pipeline

From Learning to Leading

Did you know Pres. Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act includes a $262.5 million investment in Ag workforce development? What’s more, USDA/NIFA-designated “institutions of higher education to foster the next generation of diverse agricultural professionals” that will receive these mega grants include CTAHR’s Dept. of Plant & Environmental Protection Sciences, which will partner with Leeward Community College and Oklahoma State University under the stewardship of PI Mohammad Arif. 

Invasive pests and pathogens pose continual threats to U.S. and Hawaiʻi agriculture and natural areas – and biosecurity programs are critical for protecting our food, agricultural, and wilderness resources against invasive pathogens and pests, Arif explains. Indigenous communities are especially vulnerable to the impacts of introduced organisms, and there is growing recognition that their perspectives and engagement are critical for a robust biosecurity infrastructure. Given the broad range of threats, biosecurity programs should be inclusive of diverse perspectives and knowledge systems.

To directly address the critical need for cultivating diverse cohorts of biosecurity professionals, Arif and his co-researchers will use the $7M grant to pursue a comprehensive workforce development initiative they’ve called the “Pacific Continental Network,” or “PaCoN.” 

“The ultimate goal of PaCoN is to create a biosecurity career pipeline for Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and Tribal Native Americans,” he says. “PaCoN graduates will have a broad and profound impact on regional and national agriculture, land conservation, the natural environment, and water resources. Moreover, they will serve as role models for future generations from these underserved communities.” 

Arif notes PaCoN will also address three Grand Challenge Initiatives – “Vibrant Tropical and Pacific Island Agriculture and Food Security,” “Ecosystem Health,” and “Workforce and Economic Development” – in CTAHR’s recent Strategic Vision. The initiatives strongly align with NIFA’s “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals” (NextGen) program, as well as USDA’s overall goal to build and sustain a diverse workforce in food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences.

“I am excited about this opportunity to prepare a NextGen workforce in biosecurity for leadership positions in federal and state agencies, and agriculture industries,” says Arif. “Through this project, we will cultivate professionals in biosecurity, expose them to a broad range of cutting-edge skills and experiences via local field visits, metagenomics, surveillance using Unmanned Aircraft System to multi-national internships, and more. Graduates from this program will be future leaders in agriculture and food security, and will be safeguarding our nation and local agriculture.”

Read the full Cultivating the Nextgen of Diverse Biosecurity Professionals Through a Pacific-Continental Network (PaCoN).

Photo: Co-PIs Daniel Jenkins of the Dept. of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, Mike Melzer of PEPS, and Arif.

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