By Lucas Johnson

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Tennessee State University has received a $1 million federal grant to lead development of a national platform that allows high school agricultural courses to be taught remotely because of the pandemic. 

The two-year grant and work, which will target underserved communities, are supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative/Education and Workforce Development Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture. 

Officials in TSU’s College of Agriculture say current resources being used for remote learning because of COVID-19 do not include the critical STEM topics of food and agriculture. But they plan to change that by helping to develop eight standards-based courses in agriculture, food and natural resources for high school students needing online/digital learning options. 

The project will also establish dual credit options for completers of the courses through a university or college-level faculty-course review and sharing platform.

Dr. John Ricketts, professor of agricultural education at TSU, is leading a team of content experts from the university, as well as individuals from several other institutions, including Auburn University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Georgia. 

“Dr. Ricketts has put together an expert team that will address the concerns of teachers, students, and parents everywhere and help students complete their high school education and progress to colleges in a timely manner,” says Dr. Chandra Reddy, dean of TSU’s College of Agriculture. 

Ricketts will recruit the high school teachers who will work with instructional designers and micro-adaptive course developers to roll out the courses. Faculty mentors will assist with content contribution and vet the courses for use at the college level, ensuring they can help students achieve academically at the high school and college level. The eight courses will be loaded onto a national course sharing platform so that students can use them at any institution where agreements have been reached to use the platform, according to officials. 

“The courses to be developed will help high school students, who have been sent home because of the coronavirus, to graduate on time,” says Ricketts. “The expert vetting of courses developed for dual enrollment will help those same students stay on track in college.”

Dr. Tom Byl, a TSU Ag professor, is on Ricketts’ team. He says he’s pleased the project is aimed at underserved communities because less than 2 percent of current natural-resource scientists are African American. 

“I think TSU is well suited to lead the effort and address this lack of diversity in STEM disciplines,” says Byl, who is also a research scientist with the US Geological Survey.  “I am proud to be part of that effort and look forward to working with this exceptional team of educators, leaders and scientists.”

TSU senior Waymon McNeal, an Ag major with a concentration in environmental sciences, says he wishes such courses were available when he was in high school. 

“I believe the platform will have a positive impact on those participating,” says McNeal, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “I also think it’s a great way to recruit students” to TSU. 

Senior Kalie Ellis of Ashland City, Tennessee, agrees. She’s also majoring in Ag at TSU, with a concentration in education. 

“Think about all the high school students who don’t know about TSU,” says Ellis. “This platform allows them to see that TSU has an amazing Ag program. And since they’re already taking high school Ag courses, and have a relationship with TSU professors, then why not go there.”

To learn more about TSU’s College of Agriculture, visit