USDA Announces $2 Million in New Grants for STEM-related Teacher Professional Development

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced $2 million in grants to train high-school educators to improve student outcomes in the food, agriculture, natural resources and human (FANH) sciences. These awards are made through NIFA’s Professional Development Opportunities for Secondary School Teachers (PD-STEP) program, the newest grant offering under the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Human Sciences Education and Literacy Initiative program.

“Every professional in agricultural research remembers a teacher who inspired them,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “Supporting talented educators who want to enhance their students’ learning is one of best ways to ensure our scientific workforce continues to have the skills and preparation needed to meet the demands of the future.”

With PD-STEP grants of up to $150,000, colleges and universities will offer secondary school educators immersive learning experiences in non-formal educational programs, such as, for example, a field trip to a forest to learn about watershed mapping, water quality, and habitat analysis. Educators then take these hands-on experiences and collaborative approaches, develop lesson plans, and replicate them in their own classrooms with their own students. Project participants may include a wide range of educators, including teachers, counselors, principals, school farm managers, librarians or other educators who can help students build students’ knowledge, skills or career awareness in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields. PD-STEP awards may support teachers’ stipends and travel, costs of continuing education units, provider personnel salaries, software and curricula.

Fiscal year 2016 awards include:
• University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Ark., $144,085
• University of Connecticut, Haddam, Conn., $144,138
• University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $143,950
• The University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $143,885
• University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, $144,775
• Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $144,150
• University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Lincoln, Neb., $144,150
• North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., $133,988
• North Dakota State University, Fargo, N.D., $144,149
• The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $137,645
• Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa., $142,656
• The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., $144,141
• South Dakota State University, Brookings, S.D., $144,150
• The Utah State University, Logan, Utah, $144,138

The first round of PD-STEP projects features distinctive approaches to teaching about FANH sciences. The University of Hawaii will provide local secondary school science, career and technical education teachers in Hawaii with an immersive training at the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Teachers will accompany a group of middle or high school students on an overnight trip to the refuge where they will learn about issues relating to invasive species and land use. By learning with the students, educators will see how to develop similar experiences for their classrooms.

Lehigh University received their award under AFRI’s Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) program, which provides funding to small institutions with enrollment of 17,500 or fewer. Their PD-STEP project will reach 50 educators, including 35 teachers from low-resource schools. Educators will collaborate with local meat producers to learn about safe food production. These professional development activities will reach 2,500 students over the lifetime of the project.

More information on these projects is available on the NIFA website.
Established in 2009, NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative research, education and extension to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA support for the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel has resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit, sign up for email updates or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.

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