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ARS staff around the country are heavily invested in providing educational opportunities for promising STEM students. Our goals with STEM outreach are to increase literacy and knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math for students of all ages, especially among members of underrepresented populations to help them learn more about agricultural research and how it affects their lives every day. ARS is always looking for bright minds to help usher in the next wave of agricultural scientists. Take a look at some of the activities that ARS hosts and participates in, in an effort to connect with STEM students and their teachers.


Columbia Basin College student intern Araceli Martinez helps trellis alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) germplasm plants during seed regeneration and plant characterization efforts in Prosser, WA. (Photo by Brian Irish, ARS)

ARS researchers in Prosser, WA, hosted 12 Columbia Basin College summer student interns looking to expand their experiences in scientific research. Students had opportunities to work with diverse crops important to the region including alfalfa, grapes, hops, potatoes, and pulses with research focusing on agronomy, genetics, horticulture, and plant pathology.

Student performing a soybean oil transesterification procedure in a Bio-oils Research Unit lab, NCAUR.

The National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria hosted its annual Student Researcher Program. Through this program, high school students gain hands-on experience with some of the same research techniques used daily by career researchers at the lab. Students move through three onsite laboratories with different broad-focus disciplines, interacting closely with research staff, and gain a deeper understanding of how the multi-disciplinary teams here solve research puzzles of national importance, one piece at a time.

Twin Cities Regional Science Fair Middle school award winners Ethan Finch, Jordi Malaret, Batoul Taha, and Sarah Peterson. (Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Regional Science Fair)

Scientists in the Plant Science Research Unit judged projects at the annual Twin Cities Regional Science Fair, in which approximately 300 students from middle and high school participated. ARS prizes for the outstanding projects in plant science and environmental science were presented. ARS researchers also arranged summer internships for minority students at Fort Valley State University. In FY23, they provided independent research experiences and professional development experiences for three 1890 Scholars, a Wallace-Carver Intern, and a Sci-Net intern over the summer.

Researchers at the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation have embarked on a number of STEM outreach endeavors, including creating a website with educational resources and information about careers in plant genetic resources, producing videos featuring plant collection curators discussing their career experiences, and participating in STEM programs at nearby Colorado State University.

Students explore crop origins and diversity with agricultural scientists in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Cort Photography)

Tuskegee University student Cayden Bowe presents on: Starch and Amylose Inclusion Complexes. (Photo courtesy of Suzanne Unser)

The National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria hosted a Lunch and Learn seminar weekly during the summer that focuses on career readiness. Here, the lab's technicians and scientists share their perspectives and advice on topics such as grad school, the hiring process, interviews, scientific presentations, and career paths.

ARS biological research technician Greg Fuerst explains to community college and university instructors the different phenotypes caused by different genes in the 2023 iTAG Genotype to Phenotype short course. (Photo courtesy of Roger Wise)

Researchers at the Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit are providing interactive laboratory exercises for prospective students to explore genotype and phenotype using a popular strain of barley. The iTAG program connects plant pathology, genetics, and development with active learning exercises for teachers, who then engage their students during the school year to illustrate how doing good science impacts food security. Nearly 50 high school, community college, and university teachers and 5,000 students nationwide have been impacted by this program.

Student interns Matthew Tsang and Ruhini Saha work on a home compostable produce sticker adhesive research project with Scott Howarth of Sinclair Systems, Int. and ARS researchers Jim McManus and Gabe Patterson. (Photo courtesy of Lennard Torres)

The Bioproducts Research Unit in Albany hosted interns to assist in established research projects, often working directly with industrial partners to gain valuable experience and networking opportunities. The Research Unit also held workshops at the STEM Conference hosted by the American Association of University Women at Saint Mary’s College (Moraga, CA). Three workshops were conducted featuring natural rubber as a bioproduct, including a focus on plant science and genomics.

Student intern Elizabeth Gonzales-Cortez is part of the USDA Growing the Seeds of Future program. (Photo courtesy of Reedley College)

USDA’s Growing the Seeds of the Future internship provides high school students with the opportunity to complete a summer internship with eminent scientists at the ARS San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier, CA. Selected students participate in a research program based on their academic excellence, interest in science, and demonstrated leadership qualities. After completing the program, students represent USDA at their respective high schools and serve as a resource to other students interested in agricultural-related fields. This impactful program is designed to expand students’ knowledge of the importance of public service, provide educational and professionals experiences and increase students’ awareness of career opportunities in agriculture.

NCAUR staff Nathan Kemp, Zipporah Sowell, and Christine Poppe in front of the NCAUR booth. (Photo courtesy of Kristina Gelnzinski)

Staff at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research participated in the Greater Peoria Career Spark event. This annual two-day career path event drew 4,000 8th grade students from 65 schools. The ARS booth uniquely stood out by presenting STEM careers in scientific research and offering hands-on opportunities to use equipment found in the biological lab, observing the ultra-absorbent properties of Super Slurper – a polymer invented at NCAUR, and viewing the impact of biocontrol measures on cabbage leaves.

Inaugural class of the Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program. (Photo courtesy of Boehringer Ingelheim)

ARS’s National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is partnering with private industry to fund hands-on research opportunities for 1st and 2nd year veterinary students around the country in livestock infectious disease research. By enhancing early exposure to research, we hope to inspire students to pursue research careers in veterinary, agricultural, and One Health research. ARS is also funding programs aimed at workforce development for careers to work in biosafety and biocontainment laboratories. This includes developing a Biosafety/Biorisk Management Graduate Certificate Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and opening new opportunities for students to experience high containment research animal care careers with Texas A&M University.

Check out these stories to learn more about how ARS is inspiring the next generation.

STEM Grows Citizen Scientists - BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center and Oklahoma Schools partner with ARS to cultivate curiosity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Planting the Seeds of STEM - ARS Administrator Dr. Simon Liu discusses how STEM has been a part of his life and career.

The Wonder of It All - The Asombro Institute for Science Education, with support from both the USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub, in El Reno, OK, and the ARS Range Management Research Unit, in Las Cruces, NM, is helping students understand the world around them.

Growing Together - The ARS Three Sisters Project plants the seeds of agricultural science careers.